When I think of Iowa, I think of small towns and friendships rooted as deeply as oak trees. We live a long time in Iowa; we rank third in the nation for people over 85 years of age. Those long lives and multiple generations braid us together like the rag rugs my childhood neighbors used to make.
My home town is Red Oak, and we prize our Victorian homes. Red Oak’s Heritage Hill walking/driving tour shows off our well-loved houses, each unique and built by local craftsmen.
Most people who haven’t been to Ioea associate the state with corn–and we encourage that image with our state’s song:
“We are from I-o-way, I-o-way, That’s where the tall corn grows.” Iowa is more than corn–although thank goodness we do have that with its deep blue-green leaves and golden tassles. A modern part of our farming heritage is an interest in science that makes our schools rank third in the nation. And all that corn? It’s one reason we’re also third in the nation for driving alternative fuel cars.
Whenever I hear Johnny Cash singing “Forty Shades of Green”, I think of Iowa in May. Wheat, corn, oats, soybeans, sorghum–each crop has its own color, and the rivers and streams are lined with oak, elm, and walnut trees. We’re prairie country, rolling hills across the whole state.
We have a lake district, too, but it’s more famous today for the fictitious University of Okoboji, “summer school” for all the college students who can wheedle jobs, than for its beautiful lakes. Our most famous genuine educational program is the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, a graduate program at the University of Iowa in Iowa City.
The best food in the state, though, is probably at the Amana Colonies. The older restaurants still serve family style at big tables heaped with food. Amana wines are almost as famous locally as their furniture. My favorite merlot comes from Amana, but the old-fashioned wine that made Amana famous is piestengel, a dry white wine made from rhubarb. http://www.amanacolonies.com/
And of course I always point with pride to Iowa’s prime rib, so tender you can eat it with just a fork. No knives required when the beef’s done right. The Omaha stockyards moved to Iowa a few years ago, making all that famous Omaha beef, Iowa beef.
http://www.villiscaiowa.com/ If you’re up to it, you can even arrange an overnight stay.
As a writer, I love to set stories in Iowa. Our small towns are tolerant of, um, eccentric behavior. Hey, it’s not really eccentric if you’re part of the town, right? You’re just “ours”–and we defend your liberties with our own. Whatever comes up–from hail to floods or blizzards–Iowans just handle it and move on. What better place for my characters? They’re expected to cope with whatever comes up, and they live where everyone knows everyone else.
In the anthology, The Trouble with Romance, my short story is set in a small town very much like my home town, Red Oak. I borrowed a friend’s home for her heroine’s family, and the blizzard car accident was stolen from the nights when cars drove into our family’s front yard in a storm.
I’m looking forward to seeing your comments, and I’ll give a copy of my anthology to the best comment on Iowa.