An Open Letter To My Iowa Small Town
My whole life I dreamt of leaving my town of 5,000 residents I was born in for bigger and better things. I wanted to live in a place where I could get in my car, pull out of my garage and drive more than four minutes before running into a sea of corn and beans. I wanted to be in a region of the world where people didn’t judge the size of your town - and most times, quality of it- on whether it had a Walmart or not. I wanted to taste other foods, meet other people, and see other things: things like lakes, mountains, cities, oceans and beaches. But most importantly, I yearned for a time in my life when I could walk on the streets of a new area without everyone knowing who I was.
So when it came time to choose a new location I would live in for college, I didn’t go far but I made sure I picked a place big enough to not get stopped in every bank, post office, and coffee shop just to be reminded that I look exactly like my father.
The first three years of living away from my small hometown were great. I had made a strong group of friends, managed to balance both my academic and social life, and fallen in love with my new home. But the truth was that deep down I kept thinking back to that small Iowa town I used to be a part of.
A quiet idea crept into my head. I should ask my friends to take the short journey to the town I was raised in for a weekend trip.
I pushed it quickly aside as I thought of what they would say and the jokes they would make. “Does it always smell like cow sh*t?” and “Wow, I’m surprised this place even has a McDonalds,” were just some of the dozens of things I thought they would say. Why would natives of Chicago and St. Louis want to spend any time in a small town in the middle of Iowa? The fear of being bombarded with mockery, embarrassed at the hands of my friends, made me wait three years.
Finally, I invited them to the place that raised me my first 18 years. As we all packed into my Nissan for the short trip down south, I found myself thrilled and proud to show off my town.
Arriving that day to my small Iowa hometown was one of the best feelings of my life. The way the water towers rose up like beacons, welcoming me and my friends home, made me appreciate the fact that I could see the whole open sky. I forgot what the sky had looked like without obstructing skyscrapers and constant planes disfiguring it. My heart was full as the many people I remembered growing up around greeted us with a smile and a wave as we rolled through the streets. When we finally stepped out of the vehicle, I took a moment to stretch and laugh when one of my Chicagoan friends remarked how quiet and peaceful it was. Getting away from the constant sound of traffic and fuss for a couple of days was going to be great.
That night, I decided to take my friends out to my favorite restaurant from back home. The moment I stepped through the door, the nostalgia hit me. Hard. Memories of birthday parties and family reunions flooded my mind as we sat down to eat. “Man, the servers here are so friendly,” one of my friends said after our food came. “Yeah. I guess they are,” I said, smiling.
We were nearly out the door when I heard my name called from across the room. I turned around to see an old family friend with her husband. She greeted me with a hug and I introduced her to my friends. We chatted about how she had watched me grow up in our church; had been to all my sporting events; had seen me act in the high school plays; had witnessed me become the “wonderful young man” I had turned into.
“Jack played sports?” my roommate asked surprised. “Mhmm, yes he did,” she replied. “Growing up in a small town you can just about do it all.”
A few hours passed and my friends and I found ourselves in an open field five miles outside the city limits, looking up at the stars. “You can’t see any of this when you’re in the city,” one of my friends said. We continued to spot the constellations, realizing how much of the universe we miss living inside the bubble of a busy city.
“Everyone is so nice here.”
“Yeah, people keep waving at us on the streets. In the city you’d get the middle finger if you did that.”
We laughed and stayed under the stars, and I found myself wishing on one. This visit back to my real “home” had taught me many things, but the biggest thing I had learned was how truly blessed I was to have grown up in such a welcoming and safe town.
I closed my eyes and silently wished. I didn’t want to share it with my friends but I knew deep down that it was going to come true even if I did. “Guys,” I started, then stopped. “I’m super glad you like it here, and no matter how far away I travel, no matter what I end up doing, no matter who I meet or where I end up, I know I’ll always find time to come back and visit my tiny town.”
The next day as we took the highway back to the city and our faraway college lives, I looked back into the rearview mirror, saw the big blue water towers receding in the distance, saying goodbye.
I quietly whispered, “Thank you.”