Woster: It's the little things that matter

As things were, once we had paychecks in hand, we carved out money for rent, groceries, the laundromat and the Sunday collection plate.

Terry Woster
Terry Woster

I feel like a dinosaur for saying this, but Nancy and I were married for nearly seven years before we owned two cars.

That sounds like we lived in the Stone Age. If so, we were not alone. Few of the young married couples we knew had two cars. In fact, most of the houses in neighborhoods where we lived during our early years together either lacked garages altogether or had single-stall garages, not attached to the houses.

It never occurred to me we were missing anything. Sure, it would have been nice to have had more money, but wasn’t it Robert Redford’s character in “The Sting,” who turned down his share of a big con by saying, “I’d just blow it.” If we had had more money, I would have spent it.

As things were, once we had paychecks in hand, we carved out money for rent, groceries, the laundromat and the Sunday collection plate. That left three or four bucks to last the week. Our social life consisted of having a couple of friends over for popcorn, iced tea and board games after the kids were down. I hear that board games are popular these days. Maybe we were ahead of our time.

In the two years we lived in Sioux Falls, I remember going to one drive-in movie (“Romeo and Juliet”) and a film in a downtown theater (“The Graduate”) and dinner out with my big brother and his wife to celebrate our anniversaries. Jim worked early at the stockyards, so we did not party late.


We managed with one car early in our marriage because the tiny house we rented was two blocks from the front door of the hospital where Nancy worked. She walked. I took the car to the newspaper downtown. It wasn’t fair, but that’s how it worked.

After our first child arrived, Nancy quit her hospital job for some years. We had moved to Pierre and our kids had started school before she started working at a hospital again. We really needed two vehicles. We found a much-used Volkswagen bug as a second car. Nancy wishes sometimes that we still had that little car. I thought we could do better. She always did know more than I did about the things that made sense.

In our first rental place in Sioux Falls, I parked on the curb and shoveled after the plows passed. The street led to the hospital, so plows passed often. Our second rental home had a garage parking but a long driveway to shovel. Like other young couples we knew in those days, we juggled appointments and events and trips to the laundromat, managing with one vehicle. It seems tricky as I look back. At the time, it was how people lived.

After we moved to Pierre (where our small rental place near Capitol Lake had a garage — with a door that fell off its tracks at the worst possible times), my wire-service reporting job put more pressure on our life with one car. I would get called out of town at any hour of any day. Sometimes it was a quick trip, sometimes not.

We were visiting family in Chamberlain when the Rapid City Flood happened in June of 1972. I headed for the Black Hills in the middle of the night. Nancy and two young kids stayed behind with her folks. The car and I were gone for a week. Nancy hadn’t resumed her nursing work, and the kids weren’t quite in school. It worked out. A weekend visit turning into a week-long stay was far from optimum, however.

After Nancy returned to nursing, we found we had enough money to afford that second car and the mortgage payment for an old house we bought in a quiet neighborhood near the state Capitol.

In 55 years of marriage, we owned many cars and three houses. The VW might have been our favorite car. The big house in Pierre was the best home in the world.

You know what, though? We were as happy in a little rental place, eating popcorn, playing board games and watching the kids grow. The things that mattered never changed.

Opinion by Terry Woster
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