Having returned from my trip to Iowa, I could share with you all the things that make city people squirm about rural life. There are certainly some differences when your town has a population of 360 (the current population of my grandmother’s town). While many of those things may be true, I’d like to focus on one of the many positive aspects of small town Iowa.
Family and community are extremely important in Iowa. One of the first things I noticed when I moved to Chicagoland is how many people are disconnected from their family out here. There’s an attitude that, if a particular family member pisses you off or screws up too many times, you should forget them. While there are exceptions, I’m used to the idea that family comes above all things. Even when they screw up multiple times to the point where everyone else has given up, family should always be there for support.
While listening to my grandmother discuss how her small town had changed through the years, I realized that the importance placed on family and community is more of a necessity in Iowa. Nothing is affected if I refuse to participate in community here in Chicagoland because, with such a large population, there is usually more than enough volunteers and participants. In as rural of an area as I was in this weekend, you can’t blow off stuff like that. Community is everything; without it, the town may fade away.
My grandmothers town is aging a bit. Like many small Iowa towns I’ve been to, there’s an old school building that is no longer used, only a handful of streets and a gas station that also functions as a store for small necessities (since the nearest big grocery store is about a 20 minute drive away). Additionally, you breathe in some of the freshest air and are privileged to the view of a mass of stars at night. The city lights block out so much that the rural night sky is always surprising.
She told me one night that her town was trying. This past Saturday, they held a community breakfast. Last year, they even had what sounds like a pretty active ’50 and Older’ club. Unfortunately, that didn’t last. With little in terms of business in her town, the community atmosphere is what keeps people there. Without it, the town may shrink into oblivion. In my time growing up in Iowa, I saw it happen many times, especially to towns who lost their schools.
I’ve also seen the creation of community succeed. My hometown is a prime example. With a population of only 636, my hometown has the same need of community to survive. Among the five streets that make up the town, there are four different Christian churches and a large ball park with two baseball fields, two tennis courts and two volleyball courts which double as a giant sandbox. I remember the town baseball club being a huge community effort.
Assuming things are still the same, the town has three teams for boys and three teams for girls, separated by age groups, and an adult team. From what I remember, the adult team didn’t travel, but the children’s teams did. Many small towns in our area participated in these city teams. My brother even choose to stay on the older boys baseball club team instead of participating in high school baseball.
During the summer, hardly a weekend goes by without a handful of baseball games at the park. The games are community affairs, with volunteers working at the concession stand and acting as coaches. Even those who don’t care for sports would come to play at the park, enjoy the concession stand and cheer on their hometown.
By far, the biggest event of the town is the 4th of July. It’s the only time of the year where you see a traffic jam in this tiny town. People come from all over. They fill front lawns, parks and country roads to watch the spectacle. There is no music to distract viewers from the blast and colors, which light the sky for a good 20 minutes, if not longer. For the finale, they literally light up everything they have. For a few minutes, the night sky looks like day with the amount of light blasting into the sky.
And so my hometown lives on. You hardly notice it when you drive by on the highway. There’s no reason stop and nothing much to see, but the people who live there love their town. Even though there isn’t a Starbucks near by, children must be sent to a neighboring town to attend school and the nearest movie theater has only one screen, the town thrives.
My grandmother’s town is smaller. Perhaps that means it’s harder to build community there. Still, you can feel it’s existence. People are passionate about building a community where all feel welcomed and safe. Small towns aren’t just places where you know your neighbors. Typically, people know everyone in their small town. Everyone is an acquaintance, if not a friend, and community is nearly as important as family.
Of course, Iowa is more than small communities. The video below came out during the 2012 presidential race. In less than two minutes, it dispels the idea that Iowa is full of GOP radicals and hillbillies. I highly recommend watching, but warn that there is some strong language.
Too lazy to watch the video? I’ll give you the lowdown.
- Iowa has voted democratic in five out of the last six presidential elections.
- Did your state legalized gay marriage before Iowa? Probably not. Equal marriage has been legal in Iowa since 2009.
- The first woman in America to become a lawyer was in Iowa in 1869.
- Four out of five Iowans live in cities.
- One Iowa farmer feeds 155 people.
- The average Iowa farm is larger than 300 football fields.
- Iowa has the sixth lowest unemployment in the nation and is the second healthiest
- Any guesses as to where the computer was invented? The answer is Iowa.