The longer I live away from my hometown the less familiar it seems whenever I go back to visit. Sure there were some changes here and there and store closings every now and then, when I was a citizen of Newton, but with each passing year the town’s transformation becomes more apparent to me whenever I venture back to the place I use to call home. One leisurely drive through Newton, on the city’s main street, and you’d know what I mean. The Tastee Freeze where I use to buy the majority of my baseball and football trading cards and where I would receive either a free parfait or a banana split, for every homerun hit during a Little League baseball game, is long gone. All that remains of the once thriving ice-cream joint is a shell of what it use to be. The empty rundown building, sporting a shingle-less roof, taped-up windows, and with its once packed parking lot now filled only with glass and debris, replaces the fading memories of the “grumpy old man” behind the counter whipping up a perfectly shaped ice-cream cone. It was almost a miracle when on the rare occasion the owner of Tastee Freeze would crack a smile. However, owning one of only two ice-cream parlors in town, for so many years, he was able to take that sour personality of his all the way to the bank.
Creative Touch and Mac’s Compact Disc Shop are also gone. The side by side hair salon and music store, my wife and I owned, was located just off the town square and brought both of us great joy for several years. I remember Mark, the UPS guy, routinely coming through my store’s front door, wearing those ugly brown shorts (no matter what time of year), with his jubilant demeanor and that predictable smile on his face when bringing me a package of merchandise. I always felt like a kid at Christmas, opening the box of inventory I had ordered for the week, even though I already knew of course what goodies were going to be inside. I also remember my dream of Mac’s eventually becoming a chain store, but I guess it wasn’t meant to be. After five years of only doing slightly better than breaking even, and with the downloading of songs off the internet beginning to catch fire, I sadly but rightfully made the decision to close my store. My wife was forced to close her thriving business, several years later, when we decided to move to Arizona. It has now been seventeen years since I went out of business. Numerous other businesses have come and gone in that same old building over the years, but high above the door’s entrance remains the visible remnants of stained glue, which long ago held the letters spelling out Mac’s Compact Disc Shop, for everyone in town to remember that “Mac was here.”
The town square, where young adults customarily would scoop the loop on weekends, appears to be the same. The Courthouse, sitting smack dab in the middle of the square, also looks the same, but many of the storefronts surrounding the government building are now different. Long ago the public could always count on seeing large glowing crosses, adorning all four sides of the Courthouse, and a manger scene displayed on the courthouse lawn during Christmastime. That is until some atheist, or other person with an unconventional religious belief, felt compelled to complain about the Christian decorations; therefore, ruining the traditional scenery of the season for the rest of us. The high school where I graduated from, located a mile or so south of the square, looks very similar but on a much larger scale than when I roamed their halls over thirty years ago. Boy, I must’ve received my diploma even before hitting puberty because I know I can’t be that old.
Several years ago Newton’s projected number of future high school students was significantly on the rise, although I don’t know what genius came up with that prediction, so the city put forth a bond proposal, to its taxpayers, for funding a major addition to the school. The proponents of the bond measure continuously hounded the town’s citizens with the ridiculous threat of, “having to teach our children in broom closets,” if the proposal failed. They also shouted the predictable, yet nauseating cry of, “let’s do it for our children,” until the proposal got passed and a costly addition to the high school was built. Now many years later those inflated, projected numbers have still not come to fruition, and if anything the number of students have tapered off instead. I cannot help but wonder, “Why does the school have broom closets anyway?”
Brown’s Shoe Store was the only place in the entire town where one could buy brand name tennis shoes, and it was a town square staple for as long as I can remember. Although I hardly ever shopped there it does seem strange that it is no more. When I was a starting forward on Berg Junior High’s eighth grade basketball team I was practically the only member of the squad who did not wear a pair of Nike high-top basketball shoes purchased from Brown’s. I wore K-Mart Trax. The following season I begged my father for a pair of those sweet Nikes, with the familiar tantalizing “swoosh” on the sides, so I could be like everyone else. Although he thought it was ridiculous, to spend that kind of money on a pair of shoes, my father did offer me a deal. He was willing to pitch in the amount of money he would have spent on a cheaper brand, but I would have to make up the difference from my own funds. The only money I had at that age was usually received as gifts from birthdays and Christmas, or earned from the occasional snow shoveling job, so I’m almost positive I went broke attempting to fit in with my peers.
I was beaming with excitement when I showed up to the first practice of my freshmen season wearing my prized Nike high-tops. That is until I noticed everyone else had moved on to either Adidas, Converse, or Puma basketball shoes, and the few who were still wearing Nikes had upgraded to the newest year’s model which looked nothing like what was attached to my feet. Lesson learned. That certainly may have been the point in my life when I stopped trying so hard to fit in with others, and I became perfectly content just being “What I Yam.” My newfound creed seemed a bit irrelevant though after my son was born. I realized I had his self-confidence to consider, and I recognized the world’s unfair view of the correlation between materialistic things and one’s self-worth. We tend to want to give our children more than what we had growing up, so I decided why not start from the get-go. My wife and I purchased our son’s first two pair of shoes at Brown’s Shoe Store when he was only an infant. One pair was red and white, and the other was Hawkeye colors (black and gold), but both pair of the tiny high-tops were of course Nikes. They were on sale, and probably the previous year’s model, but as a parent I made the decision early on there wasn’t going to be any K-Mart Trax for my boy.
I no longer have a voice in the happenings of Newton, but I do continue to care for the wellbeing of the town I called home for so many years. It was a good place to raise a family, and I have many fond memories of the time spent there. I simply outgrew the small town in Iowa, some time ago, and I’m glad I made the decision to move away. My hometown will always have a special place in my heart, but most importantly the town still holds my family, and that will always be enough to bring me back.
June 17th, 2014 at 8:54 AM
Jim, I fell the same way about Pontiac, Michigan. No longer are there new Pontiac automobiles on the street. The city has disintregrated to the point that I wouldn’t be caught out at night even if I had my gun. The changes that have taken place make me feel old, even if I’m 69.
June 17th, 2014 at 5:00 PM
/Yes it is all so trrue about our community not having much for shopping, lots of empty store fronts etc. The square was the “place to be” espically on Monday nights. The stores all stayed opened till 9. I really miss those days and have seen so much of it happen since I am 63. Tthe shopping center even closed with it turning into a HyVee store and HyVee gas. It was a nice shopping center and had lots of different stores. The most respected in my oppinion was Morgan Jewlrey Store, It had been owned by the same family I think 40 years. I can remember my Dad getting my first diamond earrings there. Dwight Morgan owned it and then retired and his son took it over. You could trust what you were buying!
Glad you will never forget Newton. It is a good place and I hope we will all be able to survive. It is located so close to Des Moines, Ankeny, Altoona etc and I think people started to go to those places for a day out! Also when Wal Mart came to town that changed many things also. So glad you got to come to Iowa in the summer and hope you can return during the summer months again. It is always good to see you and your family at Christmas but there is always so much going on it is hard to together. By the way how many days till Christmas???!!!