A TOUCH OF FORGIVENESS – The Heartland Series

In the deep recesses of my mind, tucked away 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.


The Methodist Church of Corydon, Iowa sits on the northeast corner of the intersection of North DeKalb and West Jackson streets. A steeple accentuates its grey-shingled roofline. Stained glass windows soften its red brick walls. A rose-shaped one distinguishes its front side. On which a thick, wooden door serves as the primary entrance to the church.

Standing at the door, I read, yet again, the note left on the kitchen table for me this morning. “Meet me at the parish office, 9:00 AM,” it says. Scribbled below the words is…Reverend M. E. Weston.

At  8:58 AM, I pull the door open. Step through it into the church lobby. As my eyes adjust to the darkness, I find my way across the lobby. I pass an empty coat rack. Step around the bin for donated clothes. Go by the table on which a display of the Upper Room rests. Head up the stairs to the hallway that leads to sanctuary. Then stop at the door to the parish office.

At precisely 9:00 AM, I take a deep breath then knock on the door. It opens decisively. Leaving me standing face-to-face with Dad. Looking at him—formally dressed in a black suit, starched white shirt, and tie—I realize the man before me is the minister of the church, not dad.

“Mark Edward, I’ve been expecting you,” he says. “Please come in.” Pointing to a chair in front of a large desk, he tells me to sit there. As I settle in, he walks around the desk. Then seats himself in a large desk chair on rollers on the opposite side of the desk from me. Eyes on me, he leans forward. Puts his elbows on the desk. Intertwines his fingers and clasps his hands together.

“Mark Edward, is there something you need to tell me?” he says. Heart beating rapidly, breathing laboriously my eight year-old mind races madly. “What is it I need to tell him?” I wonder. Could it be my messy room? Not cleaning Major’s poop from the yard? The pranks I play on Pamela? Not lifting the lid when I pee?

“Come now, Mark Edward, tell me what you’ve done,” he says. My mind fills with an assortment of indiscretions. Could it be my not eating the Brussels sprouts Mom served at dinner last Sunday? Wearing my underwear for three straight days? Not doing my math homework? My head about to explode with possibilities, I silently pray, “Great God in heaven, tell me, please, what have I done?”

A calm settles over me. Me being here, in this office, with the minister of the church, I conclude that what he seeks from me must be church related. Focusing, I think about the times I misbehaved during the Sunday service? The time I was late to Sunday school because I was outside playing in the snow with my dog Major? Perhaps it is about me plugging up the toilet, or drinking the grape juice for communion?

Interrupting my church-related-list-running reverie, he says, “Tell me what you’ve done, there will be no punishment. Truthfulness is the path to forgiveness.” Oh, how at this moment I so need forgiveness. But for which of my many transgressions should I seek it?

Sitting here, before him, my mouth is suddenly dry. I lick my parched lips. The rubbing of tongue on lip triggers a memory of the candy bars—a maple flavored Bun and a Zagnut bar—I ate yesterday afternoon. Each cost me ten cents at the Rexall drug store, on the square, downtown.

Thoughts arise within me of the table in the church lobby on which copies of the Upper Room are for sale. How the booklet is the basis for the daily devotions of the women of the church and an integral part of their monthly Prayer Chain meeting. On the table is a small, square, wooden box with a hinged top and clasp. In has a one-inch slit. Through which each woman who takes an Upper Room, slides a dime.

Tears welling up in my eyes, I know what warrants me being here. Realization turns to words. “I took two dimes from the box,” I say. Tears cascading down my cheeks, I lean forward, face in hands, elbows on knees. A few seconds later, a hand touches my shoulder. I look up. There is Dad, with tears in his eyes.

On this trip to Heartland, the memory that greets my arrival involves two candy bars, a donation box, and the minister of the church. It is a lesson about truthfulness, confession’s soul cleansing affects, and the power of forgiveness. Me realizing that discomforts from being devious arise from my desire to be virtuous. That living truthfully requires I confront such discomforts, and by so doing diminish my devious nature.

On a deeper level, I have come to understand that the encounter in the parish office was about the roles each of us must play. That Dad is sometimes Dad; other times the minister of the church. That sometimes I am son, other times parishioner. That sometimes roles overlap. When they do, it takes great care to preserve the unique goodness of each role, while honoring the possibility of new roles emerging.

Moreover, I now recognize that inherent in each role we play, should we care to see it, is a lesson. In the case of Dad and me, the lesson is about coming forth from a place of love. Being resolute, yet yielding. Teaching while learning.

For these reasons, this time as I leave Heartland, my heart carries a newfound sense of gratitude for the way Dad’s hand on my shoulder planted seeds of love within me that to this day continue to blossom. With each bloom that comes forth I think of him. And of the meaningful moment we shared in the office of the minister of the church.

Mark Edward


Note: This is the 27th post in the Heartland Series. Please click the subscribe button on the right side of the blog page to be notified of future posts.

 

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FAITH IN MY FATHER – The Heartland Series

In the deep recesses of my mind, tucked away 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.

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It is Sunday morning in Corydon Iowa. The bells atop the United Methodist Church are sending forth one final plea for townsfolk to come worship. No one comes forth. All now occupy a church pew. They came earlier.

Patrick and I stand in the narthex. White cottas over black cassocks adorn us. Our hands hold long two-pronged poles. On each, in one prong there is a taper that we use to light the altar candles. When the press of the organist’s fingers on the organ’s keys let loose a mighty flourish, the Congregants stand, and then sing.fathers faith 1Patrick and I step into the nave. As we head down the aisle toward the altar, the choir follows us—two columns, one column behind him, and one behind me. In unison, right left, we step forward. Each step we take, every choir member replicates. As we proceed, behind us, two by two the choir members enter the nave. Two by two they progress down the aisle. With each new couple entering the nave, the volume of singing increases slightly.fathers faith 2Midway to the altar, I glimpse at the Wayne Dietz family. Next to them are the Millers, Carolyn and Kenneth Willey, and the Frizzells. Over there is my teacher, Mrs. Nelson, her husband Lloyd, and son Lloyd Jr. Up ahead, are Pearl McMurray, Corydon’s mayor, and Bennie Hughes, editor of the Times Republican. Mrs. Bains, with no one near her, stands alone. Even though the sanctuary is full, and everyone is singing, their energy is low.faith 4As Patrick and I go up the steps to the altar, the choir members behind Patrick proceed to the choir loft left of the altar. Those behind me go to the one on the right. Patrick and I go forward to the altar.

At the altar, Patrick and I bow to each other, then bow to the cross, and then lights the candles on the altar. Then, pivoting crisply, Patrick turns to the left and I to the right. In tight sequence, we light each candle in our respective candelabra array.

As we light the candles, choir members continue to enter the nave, two by two, and march down the aisle. With the entry of each new pair, the volume of singing increases a wee bit, however, the passion remains low.

Candles lit, Patrick and I go stand by our seats near the lectern. There I start to sing. Our collective offering to God lacks oomph. As the hymn drags on, I look around. Mom and Pamela are in the front pew. Mom gives up a wink, and Pamela flashes a big-sister smile. They and I, listening to the pitiful singing, know what comes next.

I watch the last choir-couple enter the nave. Behind them, Reverend Mark E. Weston steps into the entryway. Wavy black hair, combed back, dressed in a black robe with purple piping, holding a hymnal in his right hand and a bible under left arm Reverend Weston is the epitome of an evangelist. I see him lick his lips, inhale deeply, wait for a note, and then start singing.

Standing in the entryway, his voice is steady, strong, and pure. His volume is low. Upon entering the nave it slowly rises. As it does, the beat of the music picks up. The organist plays faster. The congregants stand straighter, dig deeper, and sing louder.fathers faith 3Midway to the altar, the Reverend’s voice is strong, pure, and full on. The congregants and organist can barely keep up. I see him nod to the mayor, smile at my teacher, and reach out and touch Mrs. Bains. When at the last pew, he pauses to kiss my mom. At the steps to the altar, the entire congregation is feeling God’s spirit.

After bowing to God at the altar, the Reverend, heads to the lectern. When he comes by me, he stops, bends down, and says, “Mark Edward, you can do this.” To which I reply, “Yes Dad, I can.”

On this trip to Heartland, a memory of a Sunday morning long ago awaits my arrival. It is about a time my father used his powers of attraction to fill a church with townsfolk seeking sustenance and salvation. How his God-given talents met their needs, lifted their voices, and touched their souls. The memory reminds me that personal power is for helping, not harming, and for serving others not self.

From the vantage point of the present, I now see how on that Sunday my father taught me how to inspire, motivate, and serve people. That his processional to the altar put me on a path of serving others, providing advice, and helping them press on when all seems lost. Along the path, I learned to be humble when in positions of power and to focus on the greater good rather than personal aspirations.

My father’s faith is within me. It is why I offer myself to the universe, and stand ready to share my gifts (which do not include singing) with whomever comes forth. I welcome them in his honor and do so with deep gratitude. Yes, Dad, I can. I am your son.faith 5

Mark Edward


Note: This is the 23nd post in the Heartland Series. Please click the subscribe button on the right side of the blog page to be notified of future posts.

THE KISS – The Heartland Series

In the deep recesses of my mind, tucked away 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.

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“Mark E, be sure to wash behind your ears,” Pamela says. It is Saturday, late afternoon, in Corydon, Iowa. Normally I bathe before bed, but this is not a normal Saturday. Dad and Mom will soon leave for a two-day Chautauqua retreat in Centerville, Iowa. Mom’s friend Francine is going with them. Her niece Julie, from Ontario, is staying here tonight. I am getting ready for Julie. Ears clean, bath done, I dry off, dress, brush my teeth, and comb my hair. This is so not like me.

In the kitchen, at the table, Dad, between mouthfuls of dinner, admonishes me to “do what Pamela says.” And Mom, being a mom, says, “remember your manners…be a gentleman.” Pamela takes all this in then says, “Is that cologne I smell, Mark E.” Swallowing hard, I search for an answer…

Knock! Knock! They are here, THANK GOD. Mom hurriedly deals with the dishes. Dad and Pamela head to the front door. I hang back.

“Come in, come on in,” Dad says to Francine. “My don’t you and Julie look pretty.” Standing off to the side, is Julie—curls, bauble and bows, pink dress, white blouse, and pink Mary Janes. My jaw drops. The Julie, who pals around with me at the farm and reservoir while wearing jeans and Buster Browns, is a princess.

Dad, Mom, and Francine say everything that must be said and then say it again before they head off to their Chautauqua. From the living room window we watch them leave. The second the car exits the driveway, upstairs I go. There, I grab every spare blanket, comforter, and quilt I can find. I bring them all to the living room, where I stack them neatly.

Watching me scurry about, Pamela says, “What’re you doing?” My “blanket fort” response causes her to smile and Julie to giggle. When I remind them that, “A Boy Scout is always prepared” they start laughing. They now know that tomorrow we build a fort.

“Okay, the fort will have to wait. It’s movie time. Let’s go,” Pamela says. Dutifully fulfilling her responsibilities, she gets Julie and me out the door and shepherds us downtown—Julie on her left side, me on the right.

At the movie theatre, I stand tall before the ticket window, and say, “Three please!” Inside, I squeeze through a row to get us three seats down front. Pamela, and Julie follow. Reaching the seats, we sit—left, center, right—Julie, Pamela, and me.

Lights come down, curtains open, and the show starts. During the cartoon I peer past Pamela at Julie. I see her laugh when Bugs Bunny says, “Eh… What’s up, doc?” However, when Julie looks at me, Pamela leans in, blocking my view. Bested by my big sister, I put a whole box of milk duds in my mouth, and settle in to enjoy the show.

Afterwards, Pamela shepherds us home via West Jackson and West Anthony Streets. Once there, Pamela sends Julie and I to run upstairs to change into our pajamas while she prepares an after-movie treat. When we return, Pamela is scooping cherry cobbler and ice cream into three bowls on a tray. When the bowls are full, Pamela, tray in hands, leads Julie and me to the living room.

Munching on a spoonful of cobbler, I look at Pamela, Julie, and then the stack of blankets, quilts, and comforters. A blanket-fort awaits its builder. I eat faster—gulping one double spoonful, then another, and another. When my bowl is empty, I jump up, grab a blanket, and drape it over a chair. Next I move an end table near to the chair. I hang a comforter, over both. Julie joins in with a quilt. Pamela brings a blanket. Julie gets pillows. On it goes until we construct a fort, correction, a spectacular fort. Resting on a soft comforter, the fort’s floor, it is Pamela in the middle, Julie on the left, and me on the right.

Later, I awaken. Go downstairs and into the fort. Julie is asleep there, a moonbeam shining on her face. Her beauty makes my heart beat fast.

Looking at Julie, in a curl, I worry that she might catch a chill. So I cover her with a blanket. As I do, the scent of lilac, her scent, wafts upward. A strand of hair rests on her face. As I move it aside, my hand shakes. I pause to look closely at Julie’s face, closer than I have ever looked at any girl before. A beauty mark punctuates her left cheek. Three freckles adorn her nose. I wonder…

Pop! Julie’s eyes open—twinkling sapphires. Their greenness is greater than I remember from previous encounters. Seeing me, Julie pulls me toward her. Kisses my lips. “Mark Edward, what will I ever do without you,” she says. Side by side, no one between us. We say no words.

Our moment becomes an hour, then another. Early on Julie falls asleep. I cannot sleep. Looking at her, I think about how I did not want for anything before meeting Julie. Now I cannot imagine life without her. I want to protect her, spend time alone with her, and be close to her. But she is leaving. There will be distance between us.

My silent reverie ends when Julie awakens, sits up, straightens her pajamas, and prepares to leave the fort. Before she goes, Julie whispers, “Mark, it’s late, come to bed.” With that, she takes me by the hand and leads me up the stairs. She releases her grasp on my hand at the spare room, gives me a secret smile and says, “Sweet dreams, Mark Edward.” As she closes the door behind her, my heart skips a beat.

This time, when I return to Heartland a memory waits for me about a girl who makes me feel like no girl ever makes me feel before. Her presence in my life evokes changes in my behavior that make me seem so unlike myself. Her kiss, so sweet and pure melts my heart then (and, upon remembrance, does so now). At the same time, her imminent departure and our impending separation create pain beyond words.

With the benefit of hindsight, I now realize that Julie expands my understanding of myself. How spending time, alone, with Julie, a girl, while strange and new, is a big step toward my personhood. That being close, sharing feelings, exploring barns, building blanket forts, and kisses with Julie are priceless lessons to be cherished. The joy and pain I experience with Julie completes and brings out the best in me. The flame she sparks within me burns bright to this day. Thank you, Julie.

Mark E.


Note: This is the 21st post in the Heartland Series. Please click the subscribe button on the right side of the blog page to be notified of future posts.

AMAZING GRACE – The Heartland Series

In the deep recesses of my mind, tucked away 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.

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Plop! Pride and Prejudice slowly twists and turns in the air before hitting the oak floor of the living room. Thud! Pamela collapses like a deflated balloon. Shaking and quivering, she lies on the floor near the book that she had been reading.

“Mark Edward, get the stick,” Mom yells, as she goes to Pamela’s side. Dropping my glove and ball, the world slows down as I head to the kitchen. There, in the corner of the countertop, under the cabinet, in a coffee mug rests the stick. Two tongue depressors, wrapped in cotton, swathed with gauze, and covered with surgical tape.

Stick in hand, I enter the living room. Pamela is on the floor. A soft beam of light streaming through the window caresses her convulsing body. A hymn we sang at church last Sunday comes to mind—Amazing Grace.amazing grace 1Mom, kneeling by Pamela’s side, wedges the stick between Pamela’s clinched teeth. Then places a small pillow under Pamela’s head and wipes the perspiration from her colorless face. “Pamela, you’ll be okay,” Mom says. “God’s grace surrounds you.”

On the side opposite Mom, I kneel next to Pamela. Sluggish tears roll down my face. I place Pamela’s jerking left hand between my hands. Every ounce of healing energy that I can muster I send through my hands to my big sister. Taking a long slow look at Mom’s face and then at my shaking and quivering sister, I know that, “Things are not all right.”

Dad is on his way here from the church. Doctor Smith just left the hospital and should soon be here. In the meantime, Pamela’s precious life rests in our hands. Pamela—unconscious, her eyes rolled up in their sockets, teeth clinching the stick, and pink blouse wet with sweat—is in her private hell. Mom is in the hell that mothers dread—a beloved child in peril. God, please grant them your Mercy.

“Stay strong for Pamela,” I say to myself. “No hell for me, remain positive for Mom.” Pulling myself together, I think about last night, Pamela and I sitting on the front step, in the moonlight, listening to the Twins—Red Sox game. Pamela was full of life as her Twins beat my Sox 5-3. In the moonlight she talks smack to me. I draw strength from that memory and my faith.amazing grace 2With renewed strength, I thank God for the ladies of the United Methodist Church of Corydon Iowa. Undoubtedly, they are busily responding to our situation—prayer chain active, meal service ready, and blue-hair Bertha eager to care for me.

Remaining strong, I think about the many seizures that Pamela has previously survived. The stick with its special place in the kitchen, Mom and I with our rapid response routine, and the church ladies on perpetual high alert are evidence of this fact. Born with a brain defect, pressure builds and seizures happen, as Pamela grows older. Their frequency and severity are increasing. The seizure today is the worst yet.

Mom, Dad, and I do what we can to help prevent Pamela from having more seizures. We see that she gets the rest and quiet she needs, and help her live the “normal” life that she deserves. In this effort, Mom carries the largest load. She manages the house, prepares meals, coordinates doctor visits, organizes medicines, and handles all sorts of mother-daughter stuff. Dad cares for his flock, of which we are part, and does it well. I do my part by being quiet within our home and active outside it. Some days I play with neighborhood kids. Other days, I visit church members such as Bertha, Bennie, and his brother Fred. Every weekday, I deliver newspapers to the townsfolk. Whatever time I have left scouts, art lessons, choir, and little league consume. At home, Pamela and I talk, tease each other, read, play cards and board games, and practise the piano.

At this moment, kneeling by Pamela who is convulsing on the floor, waiting for Dad and Doctor Smith to arrive, I would give my life to have her made whole, and joyful as she was last night on the porch. At that instant, a faint whisper from within says that the carefree times are on the wane for Pamela and I. I should take advantage of the time we have, and keep the stick nearby.

On this trip to Heartland the vivid memory that greets me is a reminder of a tragic moment when loving hands fight to keep a precious daughter and sister alive. A poignant remembrance of how life and death coexist while Pamela clinches the too-often used stick between her teeth. A time when love of a mother, father, brother, and the ladies of the United Methodist Church pulls Pamela through, one more time.

Here in Heartland, the deeper nature of my existence is visible. I see each event of the day, from book plop to seizure and stick, in slow motion. Every role—daughter, sister, brother, mother, and father—reflects a deep connectedness to the others. Life and death are there too. In God’s grace, we save Pamela’s life while Death organizes our lives.amazing grace 3

Mark


Note: This is the 13th post in the Heartland Series. Please click the subscribe button on the right side of the blog page to be notified of future posts.

OUR LIFE, A MASTERPIECE – The Heartland Series

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.

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Northwest of the town square, past the bank, water tower, and United Methodist Church a modest, two story white house rests on a corner lot. My friend John’s aunt lives here. On the west side of the house, an enclosed stairway leads to a second floor apartment. With eager anticipation, John and I climb the steep stair steps.

At the precise moment our feet touch the top step, a “C’mon in boys, there’s work to do” greets us.

Waving us in, fussing with his wavy white hair, cigarette dangling from the side of his mouth, a leprechaun-like man scurries about the room. On its far side sits an easel. Near it, stretched canvases sit blank and ready to go. Further away stacks of paintings—trees, rocks, stately elk, and snow capped mountains—await completion. Scattered about, on wooden crates, are several half empty coffee mugs. An unhealthy amount of milky tan-colored scum floats in each. By the easel bunches of tubes of paint, brushes of every possible size, and three paint-pocked palettes of differing hues are ready to go. A not quite vacant bottle of amber liquid completes the bohemian décor of the apartment turned makeshift, winter studio of Dave Stirling, Corydon’s finest artist.

Even though Mr. Stirling grew up here, Bugscuffle Ranch Studio on the Horseshoe Park side of Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado has been his home since 1915. He is the park’s one and only artist in residence. At the ranch, most days (and many evenings), he holds court, often playing the piano as he spins tales and charms potential patrons. Holding court leaves Mr. Stirling little time to paint. So most of the paintings he sells there, he paints here, sometimes with our help.

Perched on wooden crates, John and I are ready to go. Mr. Stirling tucks a fresh-lit cigarette between his lips, grabs a brush, mushes it into some purple paint, points to the canvas on the easel, hands me the brush, and says, “Mark, paint a letter…any letter.” Leaping off the crate, to the canvas I go. With a bold stroke, S is the letter I paint.

“Now John, you paint a letter, any letter,” says Mr. Stirling. John puts a precise P on the canvas. While we return to our perches, proud of our contributions to the effort, the maestro adds his strokes to ours. A horizon appears. Stepping back, he asks for our guidance. We offer critique, he considers, then adds more strokes—brown ones, ochre too—a tree springs to life in the foreground. Splotches of blue, dabs of white become a blue sky with billowy clouds in the background. After more strokes, and an extra bit of critique, we stop. Twisted, leafless trees on a mountainside under a blue cloud-filled sky. A signature—Stirling—in the lower left corner completes the painting.

As we bask in the glory of our masterpiece, Mr. Stirling regales us with stories of his childhood in Corydon, the circuitous journey that took him to Bugscuffle Ranch, people he met along the way, and his life as an artist (and tourist attraction). His words become brush strokes, his life a canvas, experiences a palette. The stories he tells and pictures he paints depict the joys and sorrows of a man living the life he wants to live within the boundaries of our hometown and the national park but outside norms and mores of each.

We are born a blank canvas that is ours to paint. Using a full palette we paint our lives with the colors and hues we select and the textures, contrasts, and shades we experience. The combination of paints and brush strokes create different effects on our canvases. For instance, bold brush strokes and bright colors bring passion and drama. Broad strokes and earth tones portray purpose, steadfastness—one’s lifework. Not surprisingly the wide range of colors and brush strokes—including John’s P and my S—Mr. Stirling uses are wholly consistent with the unrestrained way he lives.

In my Heartland there are many characters, some bolder and more colorful than others. Their artistry is evident in the beauty they extract from the ordinariness of everyday life. The way they live inspires and guides the strokes, texturing, and shading of my life. On my life’s canvas there is a bold S stroke honoring Mr. Stirling, a reminder that talent can fill a canvas with beautiful images, but it takes a little flare and a dash of audacity to bring the images to life.

Mark


Note: This is the sixth post in the Heartland Series. Please click the follow button on the right side of the blog page to be notified of future posts.

 

WHERE MEMORIES ARE BORN – The Heartland Series

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.

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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.

Mark


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.

 

WHERE TIME STANDS STILL – THE HEARTLAND

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. My first memory of boyhood is waiting for us.

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The moving truck, fresh off highway 2 from Des Moines, snakes up the long, tree-lined driveway. The cinders carpeting the highway crack and pop with each turn of the truck’s wheels. Every crack and pop heralds my family’s arrival to the rural, south central Iowa town of Corydon and the Victorian-era parsonage that is our new home.

I stand on the back porch of the parsonage surveying the scene that now plays out before my five-year-old eyes. Pamela, my older sister by three years, stands beside me. Out on the yard, Dad and Mom—Reverend Mark and Murrell—mingle with the church ladies, neighbors and curiosity seekers who are here to welcome the new Methodist minister to town. The neighbor kids John and Julie, Dennis and David, Alan and Debbie watch the truck inch up the drive. We sneak glances of each other; in anticipation of the future adventures we will share.

Everyone is sweating. There is reason to sweat. This is Iowa. It is July, humid, and 92 degrees.

The sweat drenched moving men wave, point, and whistle as they guide the truck ever closer to the house. I watch keenly. The truck holds my most prized possession, an eleven-foot boat that Dad made me for my fourth birthday. The boat is not much to look at—plywood sides, pointed bow, blunt stern, a covered cabin midway, and no bottom. Yet in it I sail the high seas of my imagination. Sword in hand, Odessa-like I fight countless battles, prevail over imagined enemies, and conquer strange lands.

Tired of waiting for the unloading to begin, and my boat to finally arrive, I think back to Des Moines and the chaotic load-out two days ago. I picture the church members bidding tearful farewell to their young minister and his family while their kids and I play hide-and-seek. The church ladies are there, with their family pride recipes, offering up fried chicken and God only knows how many permutations of deviled eggs, Jell-O, and desserts—cakes, bars, and cookies. Dad, serious about the ministrations of his flock, does what any good minister would do. He samples every dish, talks with every person, and shakes every hand.

The packers start boxing up things early that morning. The moving men began carrying boxes to the truck soon after. They bobbed and weaved though the faithful flock as they did.

By mid-afternoon, everything from the house and garage is in the truck. Eager to hit the road, but not wanting to interrupt the farewells, be hugged or prayed upon, the boss mover, looking at me, says, “Does that boat thing go?” I look at him, smile, and say, “YES.”

He orders the men to hoist the boat aboard the truck. Then tells them to close and lock the rear doors. Into the cab they crawl, gobs of food in hand. Next stop Corydon. Soon after, Dad and Mom put Pamela and I (and a bunch of food) in the family car. With Dad at the wheel, we too head to Corydon.

“Stop,” yells the mover. With that, my thoughts return to Corydon, the parsonage, and the truck at its back door. Dad and Mom stand at the rear of the truck, eager to re-connect with their belongings. Neighbors and church members surround Dad and Mom, curious about what those belongings might be.

Ceremoniously the movers unlock the truck door. As they open the doors the hinges, lacking grease, squeal like piglets. When daylight touches the boat an audible gasp from my Dad silences the squeals. Why is that thing here? The cost of moving it far exceeds that of the nails and wood (but not my valuable memories).

Dad looks at the boss mover. The boss mover points his finger at me. Everyone turns in my direction. I smile my best five-year old smile. Laughter ripples through the crowd. I feign a laugh, knowing that in the chaos of the move I had seized the day, saved my boat, and begun my adventure in the Heartland.

Mark


Note: This is the first post in the Heartland Series. Please click the follow button on the right side of the blog page to be notified of future posts.