Wednesday, December 29, 1982 wasn’t that different from most December days in Cedar Rapids. Cloudy and cold. Very, Very Cold!
While Christmas Day was a blistering 40˚ and the week before was in the 50’s. Like usual in Iowa, the weather changed overnight.
This December day was a balmy 17˚, with 16 mph winds. Thankfully, all the snow had melted during the Christmas heat wave, so we didn’t need to deal with ice on the roads.
My plan was to work close to home while Kayleen was in her last month of pregnancy. Especially now that she was 5 days overdue. Without cell phones, the only way to check on Kayleen was to stop at a pay phone, (those archaic devices that used to be on almost every street corner) deposit a quarter and call her on our land line at home. Only on this day she wasn’t answering the phone.
My unease led me to quit work early and head home. Walking in the front door, it seemed no one was home. Further investigation found my son Jason in bed for an afternoon nap, but Kayleen was nowhere to be found. With no response to my calling out her name, my anxiety intensified.
Walking through the house she was not to be found. Then, a noise from the basement led me to wonder if that was her. Thinking it couldn’t be, we never go in the basement. In fact, we had only gone downstairs one time in the six months we had lived in the rental. The day we first looked at it. With very little furniture and no need for storage, why go in the dark, damp basement. Thankfully, it was Kayleen.
There she was… A very large, nine month plus pregnant woman scrubbing the basement clean. Walls, floors, anything she could find to clean. Wondering out loud what she was doing, and why the basement? She gave me that “What do you think I’m doing” look. With a little prodding on my part, she put down the scrub brush and headed upstairs for a nap. Doing my best to keep her resting, she was noticeably anxious. As Yoda might have said, “The Nesting Force was strong with this one”.
We’re not sure what we did for dinner that night but by 9:00pm Kayleen was saying it was time to head to the hospital. Dropping Jason off with a lady we knew from church, who was also our landlord, we headed to the hospital. With no snow and ice to contend with, it was a fast trip. Taking our time parking and getting into the hospital, we were confident that we still had hours to go before meeting our new baby. After all, with our first-born, Jason, labor lasted over eleven hours. Certainly, this one would be at least half of that. After a quick diagnosis by the emergency staff, we were rushed into the delivery room. Everyone was asking, “Why did you wait so long”? We just chocked it up to the naiveté of young, 2nd time parents.
Wondering if Jason would have a brother or a sister didn’t last too long. Kayleen’s labor lasted about an hour and half. At 11:20 pm central daylight savings time, we had our answer. Like with Jason, the hospital let me be with Kayleen for the delivery and to cut the umbilical cord. What a blessing to be there for that first breath of our new baby.
To my surprise, our baby had a full head of long, dark hair. My first thought was Kayleen, we had a Beatle. Ha! In a few minutes we were introduced to our new little girl. Weighing in at 9lbs,12 oz and 22” long, she seemed almost grown. With all that beautiful hair, she also had the most beautiful olive skin. We had a daughter! Like with Jason, we knew her name before she was born. Jennifer Elizabeth McCuen. Our own little JEM.
Almost four years after our first baby was born, we now were blessed to have two beautiful, healthy kids. A boy and a girl. While we thought we were done having children at that point. Thankfully, God had other plans. Jason proved to be a wonderful older brother, caring and attentive, helping Mom whenever he could.
When Jason was born, we thought things were tough financially. The economy was awful, and we really struggled to get by. Fortunately, we were able to find an apartment manager’s job, so rent was never an issue. Moving to Cedar Rapids from Iowa City, we followed the same plan, finding a manager’s job in a nice complex. Well, as soon as we knew Jennifer was on her way, we could no longer serve as managers. Rather than pay rent at the apartment, we opted to find a house to rent. This would provide more room for our growing family. While attending our first church, we met a lady that had a nice house for rent. With a basement that needed cleaning. 😊
Spending our first five years as managers and not paying rent was great, but it taught us some bad habits. Given that economy was 10 times worse in 1982 than when Jason was born, jobs for me were scarce and Kayleen couldn’t work with our new baby and a four-year-old in tow. We had extreme difficulty paying rent. So much so that by the time Jennifer was 2, she had lived in six houses.
Probably the worst financial time of Kayleen and my time together. There are too many stories from that time to fit in this story. Suffice it to say, we became experts at moving and avoiding landlords. Except the one that took us on a high-speed chase on the gravel back roads near a farm house were renting. He caught us.
During this time, we were diligent in attending our new church, praising God for so many blessings, even during all our challenges. Praying constantly and trusting God to help. Looking back, it is easy to see the many times He favored us with love and grace. People went out of their way to help. Truth be known, we never went hungry nor lacked a roof over our head. It is my belief that it was those times that strengthened us for anything that would come at us in years to come. After all, it couldn’t be much worse than six houses in two years. Through it all God answered our prayers abundantly, defining a path that would lead us to Arizona and prosperity.
From the day she was born, Jennifer was full of personality and love. There was rarely a person (or animal) that she didn’t quickly befriend. She always looked at the world through a smile. From the time Jennifer could talk and walk, she was always singing and dancing. If she was having a tough time it seemed all we need to do was put on some music and all was better. The only thing better than a song was a movie with music.
When she was one, she started watching the Wizard of Oz on our VCR. By the time she was two, she HAD to watch it EVERY day. At least once. If not multiple times. This went on for the better part of a year. As parents, we were concerned that this might cause problems going forward. No matter what we tried to get her attention away from the movie, she would always ask to watch OZ. There were probably a lot of worse movies that she could have gotten hooked on. Still we were perplexed.
Then we heard the news, there was a new OZ movie coming out from Disney. First, we tried to keep the news to ourselves. It didn’t take long before Jennifer knew and started asking for us to take her to see it. She was so excited. Her eyes beamed with anticipation of another trip to OZ. Still, my thoughts revolved around how we were going to be able to afford to take her to the movie theater every day. Who knew how long it would be before the new movie would come out on video tape.
Finally, off to the movie we went. To our surprise the new version was radically different from the original. Dark and bleak, with Dorothy’s friends as scary as any of the bad guys. Noticeably missing music, it didn’t feel at all like a return to OZ. More like a Halloween movie including a main character called Jack Pumpkinhead. Wondering what Jennifer’s reaction would be, we kept peaking at our little girl on the edge of her seat, eyes glued to the screen. After piling everyone back into the car, we anxiously waited to hear what Jennifer thought. To this day, the only thing she has ever said about the movie was “I don’t like that Pumpkinhead man. He scares me”. That was the end to all things OZ for our Jennifer. It wasn’t long before Jennifer replaced her daily OZ routine with Sesame Street and Soap Operas. Yes, Soap Operas, her favorite, “Days of Our Lives”.
In June of 1984, Jennifer’s best friend was born. Her sister Jaclyn. From the day Jackie came home they were inseparable. At only eighteen months apart in age, they were more like twins than just siblings. They shared clothes, friends and untold adventures growing up. To this day, one of my favorite sounds is to hear them both laughing uncontrollably together, which happens a lot. When their Mom joins the fray; it’s time for the guys to just sit back, watch and laugh along.
When asked what she wanted to do when she grew up Jennifer would always say, “I’m going to be an actress on a soap opera in New York City”. This led to her love of all things New York, New York. We weren’t looking forward to our little girl trying to make it in the city that never sleeps. However, her drive and commitment to study her art and work towards her dreams was the kind of thing that makes parents proud. She stayed out of trouble and diligently worked towards her goals.
As things will do, her goals evolved. She had met a lot of very talented and like-minded friends in Phoenix from High School and College. Most were headed for careers in the film industry. So off to LA for our Jennifer following her dreams that started so long ago on that “Yellow Brick Road”. While she prefers to be behind the camera rather than in front of it now. For almost ten years Jennifer has stuck to her dreams and weathered the ups and downs of molding a career in the film industry. With her longtime boyfriend Alex, a herd of animals and her unwavering commitment, there’s no doubt that she’ll make her mark on that town.
Happy Birthday Jenn!
All Our Love, All Ways!
Mom & Dad