Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Iowa by car, pt.5.

I read the newspapers and visit old airplanes

I read the newspapers.  The Ottumwa Courier bills itself as “Southern Iowa’s Best Newspaper,” and I am sure it is so.  The women’s club heard a talk on how to communicate.  There was instruction on how to shake hands: Lock thumbs, not too weakly, not too strong.  Count 1, 2, 3 and let go.  They practice.  “Should a woman offer her hand first?” asks a member.  “You bet,” replies the speaker, "Let them be the jerk.”  The business women’s group saw slides of someone’s trip to Ireland.  The High-Vee Stores will sponsor the annual Easter Egg Hunt at the Medical Clinic parking lot.  Please bring your own basket.

There’s serious stuff.  Michael shot Kimberly Renée, his live-in girl friend.  The State says it’s murder.  Michael says it was an accident.  He was shooting at stray dogs who were trying to steal the deer carcass he had left out for his pit bull.  The investigating office was unimpressed.  “If someone points a gun and someone pulls the trigger, I think they intended to kill someone,” said the skeptical lawman.  It’s a close one, but I would give Michael the benefit of the doubt.  The trial continues, in Monroe County.

                                                    *  *  *

Near Blakesburg is the Airpower Museum.  Despite its Curtis LeMay name it is the unwarlike activity of the Antique Airplane Association.  It consists of a grass airfield and some apparently deserted buildings on a country road out in the middle of nowhere.  When I found the place the only living creatures to be seen were a pair of large, friendly dogs in the back of a pickup.

I discovered a lady puttering around the buildings who let me into the Museum and I found myself inside an aircraft hanger in the midst of an amazing jumble of antique and obsolete aircraft packed wing to wing, so close together that I had to crawl under wings and fuselages to see them.  The old craft were beautifully restored.  I was left completely alone to sniff the old wood and leather and run my fingers over the taut doped fabric and take off into the clouds of imagination to a time when flying was adventure and not computer-generated boarding passes and preflight security theatre.  An hour or so later I came back outside to find the place still deserted.  I patted the dogs and left.

                                                                          * * *

In the company of the departed

I like country cemeteries.  They tell the names and hint at the origins of the people who had lived there.  There are fancy stones that tell you who the important families were.  There are little stones that tell about children who died so young, and how they were grieved.  I look for telltale dates to see if the pandemic struck here.

There were grave stones of Civil War veterans, with their roll call of units: Company “C” of the 19th Iowa Infantry, Company ”B” of 180th Ohio, Company “H” of the 67th Illinois, Company “A” of the 10th Vermont.  Veterans who came west after the War and died in ripe old age, the Union they had fought for secure and prospering.

Beside some of the grave stones are the iron marker of a veteran: a cross for the Spanish War, a star for the Great War and an eagle for the Second War.  For the Civil War there are iron markers that say “Union Defender, 1861-1865”.

Far back on a gravel road, on a hill overlooking a creek, I found Rock Creek Cemetery.  There was a one-room church, painted white and well kept up.  The date over the door was 1884.  The older graves were in the back, shaded by large evergreens.  It was bitterly cold on a late afternoon when I was there.  The ground was thick with pine needles and soft under foot.  I was very alone.

There were children’s small stones with a sleeping lamb.  There was a memorial to Melissa Yeller, who died in 1871, at the age of four years.  On her stone you can still read what her parent wrote:
        We loved this tender little one,
          And would have wished her stay;
          But let our Father’s will be done,
          She shines in endless day.

By contrast, on the stone of Theo. Atwood, who died in 1862, we read the laconic report: “Killed by the accidental discharge of a gun.”  I wondered why they felt the need to add that detail.  Perhaps it wasn’t all that accidental.

In the orderly cemeteries of the Amana there are no family plots.  Each member is buried in the order of his death, with a simple and uniform stone giving his name, age and date of death.  On the older stones the notations are in German; on the newer ones they are in English.  Carl Oehl told me that the Great War had been a traumatic event for the Amanas.  As pacifists they would not bear arms, and 1917 had not been a time when people were kindly disposed toward pacifists, particularly those who happened to speak German.  On one of the stones the simple formula of name, age and date was expanded to read: “Gave his life serving his country - June 8, 1945 - 22Y 9M 26D”.

(to be continued . . .)


  1. What a coincidence. I was at the air power museum for the first time just five days ago and have a post on the subject coming out in a few more. they were down to one dog and one tall thin man in his 40's when I arrived and like you, they let me in and I had the whole place to myself for the entire time.

  2. I am going to be look forward to Ed's post on this same site. Was Curtis Lemay from Iowa? You do a great job of capturing the way of life in rural areas.