In the deep recesses of my mind, tucked in a well-protected crevasse is Heartland. Memories of my boyhood reside there. It is a place where a boy’s picturesque view of his world makes time stand still. I do not often go there, but when I do a warm memory always welcomes me. Let’s go there now. A memory of my boyhood is waiting for us.
After reading the four previous posts, I expect you have questions about where the boyhood memories recounted in the posts take place, and so you should. You have very little information about where I spent my boyhood. You are in the dark, with no context for what you read. My bad, not fair to you.
I spent my boyhood in Corydon, the smack-dab-center of Wayne County, the fifth-least populous of Iowa’s 99 counties. Wayne County is the midpoint of Iowa’s ten southernmost counties that abut Missouri. At Corydon’s middle—where highways 2 and 14 intersect—sits a red brick courthouse surrounded by a town square.
The busy-ness of Corydon’s town square derives from its midway location. The proud occupants of the square include two banks, four bars, a pool hall, a café, five-and-dime, Murphy’s Clothing, two drug stores (each with a soda fountain), Chevrolet dealership, Hughes Appliance, and the Times Republican newspaper. Each establishment benefits from Corydon’s location. The residents of Corydon, who would rather shop on the square than shop in faraway Chariton or Des Moines, do their best to keep the local establishments profitable.
Of all establishments in Corydon, the hands-down most popular is the movie theatre that sits on the square’s Northwest corner. Its 25-cent Saturday matinees are a mainstay of my friends and I. As are its dinner-ruining milk duds, junior mints, and buttered popcorn that our weekly allowances buy and mothers despise. The theatre’s Friday night features are a well-liked destination for the town’s teens that date, as is the Dairy Queen across the square. Both attract teens from the nearby and much smaller towns of Cambria, Millerton, and Seymour.
Churches are the most common and frequented establishments in Corydon. There are plenty. The limestone-faced First Christian Church, occupying the square’s Northeast corner, has two standing room only services every Sunday. One block over, the white clapboard First Baptist Church has a weekly Sunday service and mandatory Wednesday hymn sing. A block from there, to the East, sits Victory Baptist, its impressive rose shaped stained glass window complemented by a large bed of red roses. Northwest of the square, near the movie theatre is the United Methodist Church that Dad serves. And there are still more churches—Assembly of God, Dunkard Brethren, First Lutheran, Jesus Christ of LDS, Mount Olive Christian, and Corydon Bible—here and there about town. All totaled, Corydon has 10 churches. For a town of 1,533 people, 10 seem about right to me. There are, however, God-fearing folks here who disagree.
Intersecting streets and adjoining sidewalks delineate Corydon. Stately elm and maple trees and occasional patches of flowers punctuate the well-to-do areas. Families of variously sized and shaped people occupy houses of various sizes and shapes. The amounts and types of furniture, clothes, appliances, cars, and toys that each family puts in and around their house are used to determine the family’s place in the town’s unrecorded, but well understood social hierarchy. Making a family’s place in the hierarchy readily visible from the street.
Crushed cinder alleys wind behind and between the houses. The alleys afford a different view of life in Corydon. Back here the hierarchical concerns of the street subside. The hopes, dreams, and sorrows of the town folk, not seen from the street, are as visible as the laundry they hang on their clotheslines.
The difference between street and alley views is apparent in the behaviors of the women who run each household. Gardening is a common task. Between house and alley, the women tend their gardens—rows of sweet corn, green beans, tomatoes, mounds of squash, and a few marigolds—in relative seclusion. The women get dirty, sweaty, windblown, and sunburnt. The loose-fitting cotton dresses and sturdy shoes they wear here, they never wear elsewhere. However, here in the secluded practicality of the alleyway it does not matter.
So when I stop to chat with a woman who is gardening, it is okay that she invites me to come sit with her in the cool shade. There she makes the to-be-expected excuses for her disheveled appearance. I politely offer up my best had-not-noticed. She talks about her husband’s work, kids or grand kids, and inquires about my Mom, Dad, sisters, and dog Major. A bit later, fresh lemonade and cookies miraculously appear. Between sips and bites we talk about my most recent adventure. She feigns genuine interest. Cool, relaxed, and fed I offer up a thank-you-ma’am, then head for home.
Scenarios like this one happen every day because behind and between the houses, along the alleyways convention and decorum are suspended. Everywhere else—on the square, at church, in the theatre, and on the street-side of our houses—hierarchy and status are full force. This is why John, Julie, Dennis, Donnie, and Cindy—my friends from families of varying rank and status—and I play in the ally spaces. And play we do!
Some days we play hide-and-seek in an untended garden. Other days we seek treasures in a compost heap, trash bin, or coal chute. Often we climb trees and pick apples. We save rolling around in mud, a favorite activity, for rainy days. The nearby vacant lot is our ball field. Our time together forges status-transcending friendships and teaches us about fairness, equality, and genuine carefree joy.
The memories you read about in previous posts in the Heartland series, and will read about in future ones, are born in the town-square establishments, churches, streets, and alleyways of Corydon Iowa. I make memories with the people I encounter there. I am proud to spend my boyhood here. It is part of who I am and who I am becoming. Trips to Heartland insure I never forget this.
Note: This is the fifth post in the Heartland Series. Please click the follow button on the right side of the blog page to be notified of future posts.