Fort Atkinson, Iowa My son Tyler’s photo
I just returned from a week long trip to Iowa to visit my family. I grew up in a rural area on a farm. The landscape is beautiful and people are resilient. We were at ballgames, and ate, took beautiful drives to lots of small towns, and went to coffee shops and ate, did some wild Ranger riding and ate, walked a 5K, half of which was in rain, and took tons of long walks. My son pointed out that each small town we visited had its own unique heritage and feel. The Czech settled some towns, the Irish others, Norwegians had a big presence -and throw in some Germans too. There’s unique churches in every town and in the countryside, and we visited many. Who would have thought visiting cemeteries would be so interesting and even “fun”? Remind me to tell you about the bootlegger/cemetery connection.
My intent is not to do a travelogue, but setting determines so much of our well- being. Growing up, I didn’t fully appreciate the beauty of Northeast Iowa, because I had no comparison and I was complacent with the familiar. What strikes me now is not only the beauty, but the welcome of Iowa and my family. My family shows up for each other. Presence is a gift to the receiver and the giver. At large family gatherings, and they are large with my 11 siblings and their families, there’s not always time to talk to everyone, but I still feel the presence of everyone. I visited my Mother several times, but because of advanced dementia she can no longer be present for me. I could be present for her and chose to do that. Showing up is the prerequisite for loving. You just gotta be there and be present. I may stumble and fall but I won’t fall through the net of family holding me up. Red Rover strong! Sister strong!
Earlier in my life I thought Iowa was behind the times, bordering on backward. Complicated lives, complicated values, just plain complicated was somehow more sophisticated and “better”. Simple was just not realistic. Boy I was so wrong …. After all, there are coffeeshops in Northeast Iowa so there’s all the sophistication I need. No need to debate forever on which restaurant to go to when the choices don’t number one hundred or more. Small town grocery stores may only have five different kinds of toothpaste, but then you can spend more time brushing instead of choosing which toothpaste to buy. Simple is rich and deep and healing.There are lots of things that just aren’t that important. It’s always good to keep it simple.
But I don’t live in Iowa, I live in Colorado. So I’ve decided I’ll just bring “Iowa” to Colorado. The welcome I felt there, the feeling of family, the beauty and rich heritage and the simple choices and values of Iowa are what I have carried home to Colorado. When I get caught up in all the “sophistication” of my lifestyle I will take a pause and ask how would “Iowa” do this? I will spend time with my son and renew my determination to be present for him. When I am tempted to purchase yet another shampoo that promises to make my hair thicker I will remember to keep it simple. Family is important, beauty is important and being Present is important.
A special thank you to my traveling companions, my sister Ann and my son Tyler. We are quite a trio! Hopefully we will have many more travels.