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Being Iowan

October 18, 2017
Amy H. Peterson - Staff Writer ( , Estherville News

I recently answered the question, "Where are you from?" this way:

I was born in Carroll, Iowa to two Crawford county teenagers. I was whisked away from St. Anthony's hospital and adopted, the only child of two advanced-degreed counselors who were not from Iowa, but lived, and worked and made it their home. I was raised in Sioux City, Iowa, educated in the area, raised a family there for 14 years before moving to the rural northwestern part. My 16 and 25-year-old selves would be furious to know I was still in Iowa, and even in a more rural part than the place I was raised. My 40-something self is pretty happy about it. I'll probably die here. That's okay, too, as long as I have adventures and am still a lot of trouble. Most of my living family is the tribe of my DNA, back in greater Crawford County, or on to Des Moines. I don't see them as often as I should. Everyone else is scattered, yet I'm still here.

I'm only Iowan because my mother and father (who raised me) had secure jobs in Sioux City. They weren't rooted here, and it took some effort, particularly for my urban mother, to make it home.

My mother arrived, I'm told, for the 1968-69 school year from her Cincinnati home with a tan trench coat as her winter coat.

"It gets cold here," her faculty friends told her.

"Well, I expect it's a bit colder than Cincinnati or Louisville, but it can't be that bad," was her optimistic reply.

"You really ought to be shopping for a heavy coat," her secretary, Berline, who later became my godmother when my dad's stepsister failed to show for my baptism, advised.

Berline told me years after my mother passed that she insisted the two of them go shopping at Younkers and JCPenney after work that day.

"It's about layers," Berline told my mother, whose head was swimming with the choices of wool coat vs. polyester fiberfill ski jacket, with little choice in between.

Wait, wait, wait. It's September, and we're going to have high temps in the 80s for the rest of the week. Let's not start out talking about cold Iowa winters, even though that's most of what my mother wrote to her parents and other Kentucky-rooted relatives that first year, according to carbon copies of letters she typed on her manual typewriter to keep in touch with her roots each week.

She described friendly people and "cheap steaks, thick and tasty like you wouldn't believe." From old Polaroids, it appears my parents explored the upper Midwest, riding horses at my paternal grandparents' acreage in northeast South Dakota, going to the Vikings game and nice restaurants in the Cities, catching a concert in Des Moines or a play in Omaha, sometimes even going ballroom dancing. I think that was kind of rare.

Monday is my birthday (23x2) and that is possibly why I am in an introspective place.

Why did I stay in Iowa?


I did have my first child in my early 20s, and because I am the offspring of Iowa educators, I was keenly aware that our schools are great. Because of budget cuts, they're maybe not as superlative as they once were, but perhaps in some ways they're better. They certainly seem to be progressing to preparing children for the challenges of the future instead of continuously improving their educational delivery for the class of 1960.

My cousins in greater Philadelphia, Houston, and Dallas paid dearly for private school for their children, because they had no faith in the public schools. One of them even sent his three children to boarding schools in Virginia.

They weren't receptive when I suggested they move to Iowa.

Our schools have their issues, but in the big picture, we're still much better off than a great swath of the United States in what we as taxpayers choose to do for our kids, in what the teachers are prepared for and energetic to present, and in how our schools partner with other entities to deliver everything our communities have to offer.

The natural world

Immersed for 11 years in this Lakes area, I'm still in awe of each one of the lakes, including Emmet County's own.

I don't take for granted (anymore) all the green in these warmer weather months, the changing of the leaves, the fact that I could lay myself supine in the grass and stare at the clear blue sky and frosty white clouds with very little pollutant interruption.


I've told the story here of my DNA journey that led to finding out I have a half brother, Sam, a chef, musician, and distance cyclist in Des Moines (author of the blog Cyclist not Biker and a pretty great writer in his own right), and we're less than two years apart in age. When we met, we clicked instantly, and while we're far too busy to actually spend time together more than rarely, I've pushed myself farther, been more fearless, and achieved more since I've met Sam, because I believe I can. Because all the drive and creativity and big emotions I thought meant I was crazy turn out to be genetic, and are the best fragments of those building blocks.

My kids have grown up here now, too, and I'm not willing to uproot them or further jigsaw our family life without a really great opportunity or cause.

It's difficult to go on adventures to present my work in New York and Boston and Santa Monica when we live so far from a major airport. But is it so far? Bum a ride to Mankato, take their luxury shuttle to Minneapolis-St. Paul airport for $15 (yes, really!) and it's not that much longer than a commute from the suburbs to the other side of a major city would be.

So I do feel a need to leave sometimes, but wherever I go, I never feel right, never feel I can quite relax, until I cross the border back into Iowa.

My daughter, Caitlyn, 21, is adjusting to her life in Texas, but says she won't be there forever.

"I miss Iowa too much," she says. Hence, the temptation to follow Caitlyn and her significant other, Corey around to Texas, there's talk of California, Colorado, is probably pointless. I'm smarter to keep the home fires burning right here.

I haven't yet figured out what an Iowa birthday should include. As an adult, some years we go somewhere special, other years it's just another day. But it will be a great day in Iowa.



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