28 May 2010

oh, there's nothing halfway about the iowa way to treat you...

I'm headed home to Iowa for Memorial Day weekend, and there are two things you should know about me:
  1. I adore Iowa, as you'll read about below.
  2. I'm quoting a musical about Iowa in the subject line.  In fact, I often quote musicals.  Name the musical I'm quoting, and you'll get a prize.  A really cool one.  No, I don't know what it is.  Yes, it might be imaginary. 
To celebrate my return to Iowa {I haven't been back since New Year's}, I thought I'd take a minute to explain my intense love for this little fly-over state...

Bt-dubs.  Don't ever call it a fly-over state to my face.

I come from a place that is important to the outside world only every four years, or every 500 years, depending on what you’re measuring by.

Every four years, my state—Iowa, the great Hawkeye State—is the first in the nation to vote in the presidential primaries.  Technically, we don’t vote in the traditional cast-your-ballot style; we caucus because we not only must be first, but we must be different.

Actually, that’s not the real reason we caucus, and that’s not the way Iowa is normally described—first and different.

I think the real reason we caucus is because we like the idea of being together with neighbors on an icy January night in an elementary school classroom, discussing and debating Big Topics with people we normally just talk about the weather with.

We also like to caucus because often, people bring baked goods, and that adds a cozy touch to our snippet of democracy.

No, Iowans aren’t usually called different, and that’s fine by us.  We’re more likely to go by “salt of the earth,” a phrase I’ve never understood because wouldn’t a lot of salt be bad for the land and the crops?

Iowans, by the way, are usually concerned with and maybe even semi-informed about The Crops.

This is because:
  1. someone in the family is a farmer {my uncle Tom farms—corn, beans, and pigs}
  2. someone in the family used to be a farmer {my grandpa and generations before him farmed}
  3. crops are a safe topic, along with the humidity {summer} and how it never really gets as cold as it used to {winter, and especially appropriate at a caucus when people are just mingling around before the real caucusing starts}.

If you happen to live along a river, the water level is also an acceptable and worthwhile discussion point, which brings me to the other time that Iowa is important:  during 500-year floods.

Now, these monumental floods happen every 15 years or so {I can explain later why this is, if you'd like}.

The last big flood was the summer of 2008—also a caucus year, making 2008 a bumper crop year for Iowa and the news.

This is an actual conversation I had while watching NBC with some friends:

“Oh my gosh, that’s my parents’ house!  There, up on the river bluff above Brian Williams’ head!  With the blue roof and the decks and wall of windows looking out over the ridiculously flooded Mississippi—see?”

“Why did you people build your town on a flood plain?” someone asked, their whole face scrunched up in disbelief as they watched the water trickle closer to the Dairy Queen on Main.

“Because that’s where the good farmland is.”

That was a very sensible answer, spoken like a truly practical Iowan, but I’m not just a practical Iowan:  I’m an Iowan who feels an intense desire to defend her state against people who just don’t get it.

Why did we build along the river?

Have you ever been on the Mississippi at 7:30 on a June evening, just as dusk is starting to turn?

I have—many times, in a wooden boat my grandpa built in 1954.

There’s a spot just upriver from Burlington, my hometown, where the water always looks like satin, orange satin as the sun slides down the sky.

Another boat passes by, headed back to the marina, and my dad squints to try to see them better:  “Who is that?  Is it Steve?  Looks like Steve’s boat.”

He raises his hand in the silent Mississippi wave, and from the other boat—whether it’s Steve or not—a hand shoots up in return, as if to say, “I see you.  We’re here together on this quiet, unimportant evening.”

And that is why we built along the river, in this place that’s important to the outside world only every now and again.


  1. It's Music Man! Where's my prize?

  2. Um...your prize is in Iowa. In fact, your prize IS Iowa. No, seriously, I'll bring you a prize when I come home that weekend of the Amana trail ride.

  3. Since I already knew it was Music Man, I'm answering with a lyric from another Iowa Musical.
    "I owe Ioway for her ham, and her beef and her lamb and her strawberry jam and her pie..."

    Glad you had a nice time being home this weekend, and glad that I got to experience a little of Iowa myself (even if it was just the rest stops).



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