The Hawkeye State

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October 18, Iowa City, IA

When I was 18, I left my home in Manhattan to attend the University of Iowa. I went because it was a well-known school for writers, and also because of an off-hand comment by a professor at an Ivy-League school I was visiting that made me want to jump the tracks of what was expected.

My high school friends had trouble even remembering where I was going, let alone understanding why. “University of Iowa, Idaho City, Ohio,” said a t-shirt that I loved.

Once there, I found myself quite out of place. Long skirts as everyday wear were common in New York City in the late 70s, but wearing them was one of many things that made me stick out in Iowa City. I was a Jewish, slightly Asian-looking, black-haired New Yorker. There wasn’t much hope of my blending in.

But being there was good for me in innumerable ways. Too far to return home for weekends or quick visits, I was truly away from everyone and everything I’d ever known. I had to learn new ways of being, of presenting myself, and of looking at the world. I learned about journalism working on U of I’s newspaper, The Daily Iowan, which was the only morning paper in town. And I got my first taste of America, which is very, very different from the Upper West Side.

So when our route west took us right by Iowa City, I couldn’t resist stopping there. Bill and I had a long breakfast with an old boyfriend and his sister, and then I spent a brief while wondering around town. It wasn’t at all the town I remembered, having grown up into a nice, cosmopolitan little city. Even the Hamburg Inn, there for more than 40 years where Bill and I had a meal for nostalgia’s sake, is much spiffier and much less of a greasy spoon than I remembered. Iowa Book and Supply was much the same as I remembered and I got myself a Hawkeyes sweatshirt to replace my old Iowa one that fell to shreds years ago. And the Old Capital building looked every bit as much the gilded penis that I remembered.

But even things that were the same looked different because one element had chanced completely, and that was me. It was really brought home to me as we rolled through the cornfields that afternoon, the same endless cornfields that made me and my father turn back in frustration after an hour’s drive out of town hoping to see whatever sights there might be. Now I saw something I’d completely missed in three years as an Iowa resident: Iowa farmland is very beautiful. So are the barnboard farms that dot the countryside, though many have been abandoned as big corporations have taken over for farmers whose banks have forced them off their own land.

“Why did I never see this when I lived here?” I kept asking Bill. Part of it was a preference for nature left wild and not submitted to agriculture. And then I craved action and excitement more then than I do now. It comes down to this: You can retrace your steps but the world will not look the same through 54-year-old eyes as it does through 18-year-old ones.

I guess that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

Image: LearningLark via Creative Commons

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