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October 6, 2009

Remembering The Forgotten

Farrell Keough

I recently got back from Iowa. I would have invited you, but they were full.


The trip is about a 15-16 hour drive. Yes, that is what I said, sitting in a car for a very long day of looking at corn fields and dashed lines. Since I had back surgery years ago, this is pretty much my idea of hell on earth – but, I digress.


It has been a number of years since I was back – not a lot has changed. Well, that is not completely accurate – I have changed since last I was there and had considered some of the aspects that separate Iowa from other states in our nation.


For instance, I had forgotten how black and rich the soil is. It never ceases to amaze me every time I return. Little wonder how our nation can feed the rest of the world.


I had also forgotten just how much land the farms encompass. The average farm around my wife’s hometown of Farmington is about 300 acres. Most of her friends have farms ranging from 800 to one thousand acres. Make no mistake, these are sizeable farms with lots of work going in and a sizeable production coming out.


Another difference is the panorama available – you can see clouds for miles. The views look as if a cattle drive of clouds is being moved across the country. If a storm is coming in, you can see it approach for miles on end.


Of course, there are drawbacks as well. We had no television for the week and radio stations are few and far between – none of the radio stations carried conservative talk radio, so I had to get my news from National Public Radio (NPR). I had forgotten how left-leaning NPR truly is. In fact, I quit listening to that station in college because it was so biased – which is really saying something since those are generally the years a person tends to be more liberal in their outlook.


The newspapers have a very similar left-leaning aspect to their articles as well. But one aspect I did not realize until I moved away was the importance of being the first state in the Union to have the Presidential Caucus. Numerous newspaper reports and editorials noted this fact while commenting on which possible candidate was visiting right now. In short, no one comes to “visit” Iowa – people only come for a very specific purpose, and generally that purpose does not involve benefit to Iowan’s so much as benefit to the person visiting.


Another facet to this return involved visiting a small town atmosphere. Although I too grew up in Iowa, my hometown was not so much the small town ambiance. My hometown was actually a college town – in reality, this is a small town, but the influence of thousands of students every year and many transplants, who either moved there to teach or stayed after college, tends to dilute the small town character.


You see, events can have much more meaning in a small town – for instance, the first year I ever visited Farmington, the visit was written up in one of the local papers. Nothing more than a passing mention, but it was there and pretty much everyone in town knew who I was and why I was there.


This is common for small towns and folks react differently to the situation. In short, everyone knows your business and you know everyone else’s business in a small town – at least that is the common perception. But, perception is not always reality.


For instance, during one conversation in a diner, a longtime resident told me of a doctor in town who had retired. What was not generally known about this doctor was the level with which he had given to his community. During the Great Depression, this doctor was delivering babies, but many households could not pay for this service. Not only did he do this service for credit, but he was never paid back. He had many, many residents in that town whose parents could not pay for their delivery, but this doctor accepted as paying patients for most of their lives.


This is what differentiates a small town – the recognition certain jobs must be done, regardless of payment and the willingness to help one another. In our fast paced world of iPhones and immediacy, it would do us well to remember that we should be our brother’s keeper. Better book early, Iowa fills up quickly.

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