Tag Archives: IA


The other night it rained and I felt this sudden urge to go outside, into the backyard, and lay naked on a lounge chair. I’m sort of strange like that. I mention my nudity only because it would have been quite silly if I had laid outdoors during a rainstorm fully clothed. I’m not totally insane. My wife and I have only experienced about a dozen steady rains in Peoria, since moving here over seven years ago. We live in the desert for goodness’ sake, so we really shouldn’t be too surprised by the lack of rainfall. Raindrops are so scarce in Arizona, that many residents flock to their covered patios to witness the oddity when it happens. I’m not one of those people. At least not yet.

I had my fill of rain while living in Iowa, for the majority of my life. Many times tornados, hail, or flooding accompanied the rain, so there wasn’t much to like about that kind of weather. I think what irritated me the most though were the incessant discussions, about the rain, which lasted all spring and summer long. The tiresome conversations about whether there was too much rain, or not enough rain, for the local farmers’ crops were almost too much to bare. I can’t remember a time, as a Newton citizen, when the amount of rain was “just right.” Now, many years later I unexpectedly had found myself not only wanting to be a spectator but actually longing to be amongst the rainfall. My lovely wife wasn’t interested in joining me (she’s mostly sane), so I experienced the rarity of the condition on my own.

In the beginning the large raindrops were cold and a bit maddening. There was definitely an initial shock to my body, but then I remembered a relevant line from the movie First Blood. The classic film also happens to be what was playing at the drive-in when my wife and I went on our first date on June 3rd, 1983. In the classic film, Col. Samuel Trautman is describing his protégé, John J. Rambo, to an egotistical, small-town sheriff who is trying to capture the former Green Beret. The Colonel warns the sheriff that Rambo is, “a man whose been trained to ignore pain, ignore weather, to live off the land, to eat things that would make a Billy goat puke.” I subscribe to that notion, of mind over matter, so I fully expected the elements to change, for the better, as I continued laying motionless on the lounge chair.

Although my eyes were closed, during this rare occurrence, I could see continuous flashes of light through my eyelids, and I could hear the intermittent thunder as if it were in surround-sound. At first I couldn’t tell if God was crying or simply nourishing His creation. I know there’s a lot going on in this world worth crying over, but this rainstorm seemingly carried with it a message of peace and happiness with each and every raindrop. The rain increasingly became secondary to my profound thoughts which were typically reserved for the still of the night when nestled in my bed. I found myself praying, as if it was bedtime, and thanking the Lord for who He is and what He does. The rain was no longer cold and annoying, but warm and comforting, and I was filled with an unheralded contentment.

After soaking up the unique experience for awhile I was ready to go back inside, but I then suddenly felt challenged to ride out the gentle storm. It seemed as though I was being offered a chance to play a friendly game of “who’ll blink first” with God. I was just stubborn enough to remain there on my back, another several minutes, for the duration of the rainfall. I won the game but only because He was gracious enough to let me win. That’s what Father’s sometimes do for their children. After claiming victory, and entering the confines of my warm, dry house, it immediately began to rain again as if God was enticing me back outdoors for a rematch. I knew I’d probably lose this time, and I no longer had the yearning to be outside, so I decided to remain inside with my newfound memories of the unique experience. Laying naked outdoors during a rainstorm may be a bit unconventional, but at least I’m not one of those “patio people.” Not yet, anyway.


My Hometown

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.

Trying To Fly The Friendly Skies

Here we go again. I’m on yet another flight with my wife, from our home in Arizona, and headed to our old home in Iowa. Literally. My mother-in-law now lives in the house we use to call home for ten years, prior to moving across the country, and as usual that’s where we’ll be staying while we’re back in Newton. Albeit “mom” has made many changes and a few improvements, to the ranch-style dwelling since we left, so “our home” is hardly recognizable to me at this point, especially since my wife and I sleep in what use to be our son’s room, but there certainly still is a familiarity with our temporary living arrangement. The view of the sunrises from the back deck are still breathtaking, and relaxing in the nearby hot tub is like reuniting with a long lost friend.

We love our family immensely, so we return to the Midwest every Christmas because it’s a promise my wife and I made to each other before moving away. Why else would we be willing to sacrifice the comfort of Arizona’s typically sunny and 70* weather, during the month of December, for Iowa’s blistery winter conditions? The snow, ice, sleet, slush, and freezing cold, so prevalent in the Midwest, doesn’t seem to make Iowa an attractive destination during the winter months. If truth be told I actually do like the state’s bitter cold and fresh fallen snow but only at Christmastime and only for about a week.

My wife and I recently decided that seeing the clan only once a year was no longer adequate, so we planned an extra trip to the Hawkeye State, during the month of June, and most of the family knows nothing about our upcoming visit. We are going to just show up on my parent’s doorstep and holler, “Surprise!” Every time we head back to Iowa, we fly the friendly skies. I cannot imagine using any other form of transportation for the thousand miles-plus journey. I think taking a cruise ship could be nice once in awhile, but I don’t know exactly how that would work with so much land in between the two states. I suppose I could check out a map to see if it’s at all possible, but as usual – I’m too lazy.

We have flown many times before, so you’d think it would all be routine for us by now, but there always seems to be some sort of occurrence to make the experience a little more interesting than it should be. Even our first Christmas, coming back to Newton, we had the customary but unfortunate experience of losing a piece of our luggage. Luckily, we had arrived a couple of days earlier that year, so we did have some time to recover the lost bag before the 25th. It’s a good thing the airline was able to track it down because most of the presents we had purchased for our loved ones were in that bag. There have been a few times when we have had to rush through the airport, for fear of not making our flight, although our pace was nowhere near the extent of frenzy, compared to the McCallister family, as seen in the classic Home Alone movies.

Last year I was stopped on the freeway by an Arizona Highway Patrolman while heading to the airport. I knew I wasn’t speeding (not too much anyway), so I respectfully kept changing lanes to let the approaching officer get by me; therefore, allowing him the opportunity to capture whatever fiend he was pursuing. I couldn’t imagine why he insisted on staying directly behind me, but when he eventually flipped on his siren I then knew I was the fiend. The officer explained how my annual registration was overdue by a couple of days, but the patrolman was nice enough to only give me a warning. I did tell him how I had not received a bill in the mail from the Department of Transportation, as I had every single time before, so I honestly was unaware I had been driving illegally.

After our vacation was over I contacted the D.O.T. about the incident. Their lame response to my untimely situation was that they weren’t obligated to send out reminders but they sometimes would simply as a courtesy. After five straight years of the Department being “courteous,” and my becoming dependent on the annual notifications I had been receiving each year, I guess they ultimately had me right where they wanted me. I quickly came to the realization that their suspicious policy, of being inconsistent with the public, was probably a newfound way of generating some easy income by preying on responsible yet unsuspecting drivers.

All was going well this time, unlike our previous traveling experience, at the start of our Summer trip back to Iowa, until we took some ill-advised advice from a shuttle driver. He had just driven us from the parking lot to a free baggage check-in service located a great distance from the actual airport. He insisted the lines inside the airport would be much longer than the line, consisting of about eight fellow passengers, formed on the sidewalk right in front of us. We reluctantly took his advice, and after a twenty minute wait the man behind the counter informed us his computer would not allow him to check in our bags since it was now less than 90 minutes until our scheduled flight. Well, that certainly wasn’t the case when we first got in line.

Besides, wouldn’t that have been a perfect reason why he should have accepted our luggage, and sent us on our way, instead of making the check-in process so challenging? The seemingly long ago leisurely start to our trip had now become another chaotic dash through the terminal. Five minutes! It took us a measly 5 minutes (less actually) once we finally arrived at the spot where we had intended to go in the first place to check in our luggage. We then got to the airport security checkpoint and again encountered somewhat of a line. This time though it appeared the line was manageable enough, so we felt like we no longer needed to worry if we’d be arriving at our boarding gate destination in time.

However, airport personnel suggested almost immediately, for those of us towards the back of the line, to go to a different security checkpoint because the wait time there would be significantly shorter. Sound familiar? He also said the wait would be approximately 30 minutes or more if we remained where we were. I didn’t even consider, for one moment, taking the airport employee’s suggestion at that point. I am so glad I know and trust in the famous adage, “Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.” Fifteen minutes! That’s all it took for us to get completely through security. A mere 15 minutes and not the threatened amount of twice that time. I’ve learned to expect the unexpected with our flying endeavors, so I’m not too surprised anymore whenever our carefully planned itinerary eventually goes awry. My parents, on the other hand, were utterly surprised when we “just showed up.” The priceless expressions alone, on their faces, made our summer trek to Iowa worth the while.