Home Life

Postcards from Iowa #15

The bean feast, Jacob Jordaens (1593 – 1678) Wien, Kusthistorisches Museum.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Our vegan menu:
Assorted homemade pickles
Wild rice pilaf
Baked Great Northern beans
Acorn squash
Peas and carrots
Brussels sprouts
Cranberry relish
Apple crisp
Fresh, local apple cider
Filtered ice water
Final presentation.
Kitchen Garden

Postcards from Iowa #14

Reverse side: Stella Marrs, P.O. Box 2273, Olympia, WA 98507.

I plugged in the grow light for the first time since summer to move a flat of Ajuga plants indoors. We reclaimed them from the yard, where they spread and spread, all the way down to the drainage ditch. We transferred them from my father-in-law’s home before he died in the 1990s. At the nursery Ajuga plants are quite expensive, maybe $6 per pot. We’ll have plenty at no cost but our labor if we take care of them. They grow like weeds.

On Thanksgiving I plan to lay out the 2022 garden and prepare the first seed order. Second seed order, actually, as I already have the onions and shallots to start in late December. I hope to clear the dining room table and sit down to consider what seeds we have and what we want to grow in consultation with my spouse. It could be a family tradition, one that means something special. We’ll see how it goes as I don’t want to get ahead of myself.

We are not big on year-end holidays and usually spend them by ourselves. Once we make that decision each year, everything hinges on how we feel. There is a slate of phone calls, emails and the like. Being a vegetarian household, the deer, geese and wild turkeys are safe from us as the meat culture is absent. Most people would call what we eat “side dishes.” At a point long ago we reviewed the nutritional values and found we had a well-balanced, if nontraditional Thanksgiving meal.

I don’t know where I got this postcard yet I like it. I do garden organically, although I gave in and started using composted chicken manure as fertilizer. It improved the yield. I don’t use manufactured herbicides or insecticides, organic ones work fine. I get organic seeds when I can find them. To see the face of the farmer, I look in a mirror.

Friday morning there was a partial eclipse of the full moon. It looked awesome set in a bed of bright stars. I couldn’t get a decently framed photo so I didn’t take any. Memory will have to serve.

We have provisioned up for Thanksgiving and have everything we need. If the orchard releases Gold Rush apples today, I’ll go get some along with a half gallon of cider. If the Gold Rush are not available, I’ll stay home and make my own cider for Thanksgiving. I saved enough garden apples in case I needed them.

With the holiday season upon us, the rush to year’s end has begun. 2021 is almost over and we are ready to begin again. I’m here for that. I’m looking forward to another gardening year.


Postcards from Iowa #13

Copyright: Joan Liffring Zug, photographer.

Reverse side: Made by Dexter Press, West Hyack, New York. Published by Mennonite Historical Society of Iowa, Kalona, Ia. 52247. Old Order Amish and conservative Mennonite daughters wear traditional plain homemade dresses familiar throughout 450 years of Anabaptist history. These are the children of a buggy maker living and working near the Kalona Cheese plant of Twin County Dairy, Inc., Highway 1, Kalona, Ia.

Two girls posing for a photographer who had permission to take their picture. There has been more than a little controversy about photographing Mennonites and Old Order Amish. It is permissible with the former, and against views about graven images with the latter. The images are well-circulated.

I used to visit the Twin County Dairy when bicycling from Iowa City. Cycling alone for the exercise, I would stop and buy cheese curds at the dairy. That is, if it were open. Often my trips were predawn when the glow and flicker of kerosene lamps came from house windows and the doors of barns. I no longer travel to Kalona as I learned how to produce almost everything I formerly bought at Stringtown Grocery and other shops scattered in the rural area.

Twin County Dairy, established by a group of Amish and Mennonite farmers as a cooperative in 1946, was shuttered in 2014. Kalona Creamery, a part of Open Gates Business Development Corporation bought it the following year. Their businesses included Kalona Organics®, Kalona Farms, Farmers Creamery, Awesome Refrigerated Transit of Iowa, and Provision Ingredients. I don’t know if they have a retail store that sells cheese curds. Since there is a creamery a few miles from home, I have no need to go and find out.

Author David Rhodes wrote about the area in his novel Rock Island Line. I have a library copy of the first edition, published in 1975. No doubt I bought it at a thrift shop. There is a rubber stamp inside the front cover that reads, “Outdated Removed from Circulation.” Young girls in the Mennonite community and their photographs won’t become outdated any time soon.


Postcards from Iowa #12

Buzz Aldrin on the Moon, July 20, 1969 – Apollo 11. Photo credit: Neil Armstrong.

Reverse side: Cumquat Publishing Co. P.O. Box 4932, St. Louis, MO 63108

When considering this photo the isolation stands out. Besides Michael Collins orbiting the moon while waiting for their return, Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong were alone. The sense of isolation is profound.

They were trained to deal with the mission and by all accounts did well. It was a unique moment in history, one in which many Americans took pride.

I witnessed what I could on television when it happened or on replay. I remember grainy images, a reality that seemed surreal.

It is a great photograph. One I’ll think about all day.


Postcards from Iowa #11

Photo Credit: The American Scene Collection, American Oil Company 1969.

Reverse side: Washington Skyline, Washington, D.C. Located on the axis of the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument, the Capitol Building is shown in the foreground with the Washington Monument illuminated in the background. See the U.S.A. in a Chevrolet. As you travel ask us.

Life would have been simpler if I had stuck to the same path as friends in high school. Maybe follow a narrative such as after school and military service find a job, raise a family, work it until retirement, then settle back and relax in the golden years. Simple.

Actual living was not simple. While many in my cohort married and started a family immediately after high school, I did not and that made a difference.

The trauma of being injured while young, and the subsequent hospital stay, removed me from conventional pathways. I wrote about it in 2009:

My earliest defining moment was the day, at age 3-1/2, when a swing-set set up in the basement of our Madison Street home collapsed and injured my head. My parents were horrified. I remember the pool of blood on the basement floor, holding the thumb of the ambulance driver, taking ether dripped into a funnel to anesthetize me for the stitches to mend my gashed head. I am lucky to be alive. What I learned through the injury and recovery in the hospital was that there is an infrastructure of knowledge and caring to support us when things happen. I watched the routines of the hospital staff, the doctor checking up on me, changing room mates and bed linen, daily visits from my parents and the handling of my propensity to get out of bed and walk around. This experience assured me that although we are vulnerable, we are not alone.

Over the years, Doctor Kuhl would examine the scar on my forehead and talk about my recovery when I visited him in his office. Today, I don’t think of the scar, and suspect most people do not even notice it. What I do think about is that while we are not alone, we must be part of a society that helps protect those who are most vulnerable, including the injured and infirm. When I was very young, I made a withdrawal from this bank and now the debt needs repaying.

Big Grove News, Jan. 18, 2009.

Little has changed since I wrote this. While I relied on the infrastructure of society, at high school graduation I had neither the interest nor skills to get married and start a family. I went to college instead.

In late 1968 or 1969, I sought Father’s approval while figuring out what to do after high school. Maybe I would study engineering, I told him. The practical, rational approach of an engineer to problem-solving was appealing. He neither approved nor disapproved. He looked surprised it was on my mind. He was completing his own education and perhaps was preoccupied. He would be gone soon afterward.

During senior year in high school we made a class trip to Washington, D.C. and New York City. It was my first trip on a commercial aircraft. We saw the U.S. Capitol and Washington monument depicted in this postcard at about the time it was printed. We played cards for nickels and dimes in our room each night. My winnings paid for incidental expenses through New York. In some ways the class trip was the beginning of living on my own and experiencing the world outside my home town. It seems appropriate it would start with the nation’s capitol.

My life divides into segments: preschool, education, work and family, moving to Indiana, and moving back to Iowa. Each was important for different reasons. As I went through time I didn’t know how each step would unfold.

My education, including military service and graduate school, had the momentum of youth. When I finished school at age 29, I was ready to do great things. Available opportunities were a disappointment. The trajectory of youth found me alone and unsettled, without a career or path forward. I would have to make my own way and that complicated things. In retrospect it was a good complication. If I hadn’t left my home town permanently for university, life may have been simpler.

I’m glad my circumstances gave me the chance to leave home and be different.


Postcards from Iowa #10

Reverse side: illegible postmark and message written in pencil.

This postcard is intended to be a joke. I love it for its gossipy nature. It was written in pencil and the script has all but faded away. The postmark and address are illegible. If there was a written message, it is gone. Names are written next to the figures in the image, but can’t be read. It is reflective of a forgotten time of white privilege.

What world does this represent? The man and women are unlikely married and that alone is noteworthy according to the sender. If Facebook existed at the time of the postcard, an appropriate comment and discussion thread would be forthcoming.

I have used Facebook since March 2008 to stay in touch with our daughter after her move to Colorado after college. She encouraged me to join. I have no regrets.

To feel better about Facebook, I limit use of the platform. I cross post from Instagram, serve as admin for two private groups, and occasionally post some of my writing there. Most of my daily activity is checking notifications and responding as briefly as I can. I respond with a vague notion that friends who show up in my timeline will be those with whom I interact.

As part of my usage, I curate the “life events” part of my profile some Sunday afternoons. At first it was a timeline of selected musical concerts I attended. Eventually I added other significant events like an audience with Pope Paul VI, buying our first home computer, and selected key moments of engagement in society. I work on it from time to time and it encourages me look up dates and record them as a reference for my autobiography. Because I isolate myself from most of what is toxic about the platform my list of grievances is short. The private group with neighbors is particularly useful in my role as president of our home owners association.

While white privilege persists, societal attitudes reflected in this postcard do not. The circle of people with whom one might share such a titillating message is limited to a small subset of those we know. Most think the better of mocking young love in an age where joy is stripped from many aspects of life. We encourage behaviors of white privilege and keep such thoughts to ourselves. The better behavior would be to determine how to recognize and purge white privilege completely from our thoughts and deeds.

The postcard is distinct. Coming from the time it does, I appreciate the ideas behind it. That taunting, juvenile assertion more often found on the playgrounds of graders than in adult society.

To read all of my posts in the series, click on the tag Postcards from Iowa.


Postcards from Iowa #9

“In All That Is Good, Iowa Affords the Best”

Reverse side: “In All That Is Good, Iowa Affords the Best.” Iowa was admitted as a state Dec. 28, 1846. The Capitol was built 1873-1886 at a cost of $3,296,256. The domes are plated with 22-carat gold. The mural “Westward” hangs at the head of the grand stairway. “Iowa, Her Affections Like The Rivers Of Her Borders, Flow To An Inseparable Union”

We don’t pick the circumstances of our birth. Because life has been tolerable in Iowa I stayed. I had experiences elsewhere: in the military which took me to South Carolina, Georgia and Germany, and a work transfer to Indiana. Both times I returned to my home state. If I had found a place more suitable for living I would have moved there. A person gets used to what they know.

I graduated from the University of Iowa twice yet I don’t consider myself to be a “Hawkeye,” the nickname for graduates. I don’t even follow the sports teams despite large sums of money the state invests in them. I don’t farm or work for someone any longer. As a pensioner I could live anywhere. So far I continue to choose Iowa.

It is not bad living here… yet. Despite growing coarseness in society, where personalities rage at one another, denigrate liberals and intellectuals, and do dumb things, I’m still here. We are a place where Qanon members and dark money lobbyists are close to the governor while I am not. The postcard is not clear about “all that is bad” yet we have plenty of that in Iowa. At the point where there is concern for personal safety I might leave. Where would I go? To a place where my pension dollars would stretch further. Perhaps outside the United States.

The designer of this card was a publicist and an optimist. I recognize the objects on the front side and have been in the state capitol and historical building many times. The idea we are an “inseparable union” is ridiculous in 2021. It would be fitting to mention the two bordering, polluted rivers flow to the Gulf of Mexico where they contribute to a large dead zone. Hardly stuff to be used in promoting the state. The card is undated but is a product of the 20th Century. We are so past that now.

We make the best lives we can. We are handicapped by education, social status and physical attributes. Those handicaps can be overcome. In Iowa I’ve always been able to find work enough to own a house and pay the bills. Emblematic of our financial circumstances is I drive a 2002 automobile. It is low mileage and serves basic transportation needs. I wouldn’t want to make a trip to New Jersey in it.

There is a migration of young people leaving the state. Why would they stay? Drawn to large cities like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, they also move to Colorado where Denver has become a gathering place for young professional people. Florida used to be a destination until Governor Ron DeSantis came along. Now there is an ongoing exodus from Florida as well. Iowa’s governor seems resolved to follow DeSantis’ lead. It’s another reason young people leave the state.

I like this postcard and wish the slogans were true. If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.


Postcards From Iowa #8

Reverse side: Abraham Lincoln from New Salem. This bronze statue by Avard Fairbanks was given to the State of Illinois by the Sons of Utah Pioneers in 1954. It is located at the top of the hill in New Salem State Park near the entrance to the village. Published by Color-View, Inc., 208 N. Main St., Rockford, Ill. Postmarked May 17, 1962 in Rochelle, Ill. with a note from Father.

I grew up in Davenport, Iowa. Iowa is not the land of Lincoln. That is across the Mississippi River in Illinois.

Father sent this postcard from Rochelle, Ill. where he presumably attended a meeting for the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen of North America. I don’t recall. I was ten years old. The message on the back was, “I’ll be home before the card gets there so I’m saying goodbye to Rochelle.”

We stopped by Father’s step-mother’s place in Rock Island one time. She wasn’t home. Gladys was grandfather’s second wife after Ina Elizabeth died young of food poisoning. Grandfather died of complications from surgery. According to her obituary, Gladys owned and operated Deaton’s Diner for 35 years. She kept the family name, adding two additional husbands by hyphenation after grandfather died. She told me, in the only letter I have from her, that the marriage into the Deaton family was a business proposition. All three of her husbands are buried next to her in a Rock Island Cemetery we visited decades ago. The cemetery sexton knew “Mrs. Deaton” well.

In high school, we took the bus downtown then walked across the Centennial Bridge to Rock Island where a movie theater was screening a serialized story of The Batman made by Columbia Pictures in 1943. After the television program debuted in 1966, I was all about the Batman. All 15 serial episodes were screened one after another. It was a long walk to see them, but we felt it important to include the serial in our Batman fandom.

On my trip back to Iowa from military service I stopped and stayed with friends in Springfield, Ill. for a couple of days. During that trip we visited Lincoln’s tomb and his house, which had been opened to the public. I recall a number of book shops displaying various Lincoln books in street-facing windows. Many words have been written about the 16th president. He felt more real to me after that visit.

I spent the most time in Illinois when we lived in Indiana. Work took me all over. I got to know Chicago and the suburbs, as well as most other parts of the state. I went anywhere with an opportunity to recruit truck drivers.

I’m lucky to have this postcard. It’s one of the few notes Father sent me. It could easily have disappeared with my comic book and baseball card collections left in Mother’s attic when I moved from home in 1970 to attend college. I don’t think of Father much these days. When I do, it’s comforting to have things I know he touched as well. It is part of making a life in the time of the coronavirus.

Living in Society Writing

Postcards from Iowa #7

The Pine Barn Inn, Danville, Pennsylvania

Reverse side: The Pine Barn Inn — Danville, PA 17821 As Featured in ‘Back Roads and Country Inns’ Photo by C.G. Wagner, Jr.

I stayed at The Pine Barn Inn while director of maintenance for a large transportation and logistics company. For many years we bought Fruehauf Trailers built in Fort Madison, Iowa. I was in Danville to evaluate a Strick Corporation trailer manufacturing plant as prelude to picking a new vendor. By 1993 the writing was on the wall that Fruehauf was going out of business.

A leveraged buyout in 1986 by the company’s management left Fruehauf burdened with debt, and in 1989 the company was broken up and sold, though one segment, the truck trailer unit, retained the name Fruehauf Trailer Corporation. That corporation declared bankruptcy in 1996 and was sold to Wabash National the next year.

Fruehauf Trailer Corporation Wikipedia.

While many in the truckload segment of the transportation business were buying Wabash National plate trailers, the owner of our privately held company was apparently not a fan. We chose Strick for a non-Freuhauf plate trailer build over others I evaluated.

I traveled a lot during my transportation and logistics career. It came to a point where I would wake on an airplane and not know where I was or where I was going. The job had me traveling to both coasts and from Florida to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I had a heavy carbon footprint in those days.

When I supervised a driver recruiting operation I had offices in Iowa, Indiana, Kentucky, Georgia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Missouri. We even did driver recruiting in Astoria, New York near LaGuardia Airport. I met people from everywhere and spent a lot of time in transit.

I don’t remember much about The Pine Barn Inn, except it was clean and met my personal needs. That’s what I wanted during business trips. Today I hope most of my traveling is finished. At least I still have this postcard.


Postcards from Iowa #6

Text on the postcard: Stratford, Ontario, Canada The Festival Theatre viewed from across the Avon River is one of three theatres offering an excellent selection of theatrical performances during the Stratford Festival (May to November). Photo Credit: Robert B. Hicks

When our daughter was in middle school we began taking family vacations. They persisted through the summer between junior and senior year in high school.

It began with a week-long trip to Orlando, Florida where we stayed in a motel and made day trips to theme parks, including Walt Disney World, Universal Studios and Sea World. It was our first air travel together. For me, vacationing was participation in a great American adventure. It had one foot standing on consumerism and the other on a job that consumed much of my life. While we had only a brief sampling of what Orlando has to offer that first year, it was a positive experience. We made summer vacations annual.

Next was a trip to Colorado where we visited friends and did some mountain sight seeing. We drove among the 14,000-foot peaks and spent the rest of the time visiting people. After that, it was trips to Stratford, Ontario for the Stratford Festival of plays, and everything around them. I don’t recall how many plays we saw but our daughter insisted on meeting the actors to get the program autographed after each one. Vacations in Stratford became something else.

I didn’t realize it then, yet it became clear later, vacations were a crucible for making a life from the raw materials of society. They transitioned us through releasing our child to college and then to the greater challenges of living a creative life. Upon reflection, there are not many creative communities like the one in Stratford. We were fortunate to have had those trips.

It’s hard to say whether we will return to Stratford as a family, or take any kind of vacation. We will always have those summers to remember.