Note: I wrote this a year ago after an evening at the North Liberty Barbecue and Blues Fest. Tonight we went to downtown Iowa City to enjoy another local treat of summer, a Friday night free concert, on the ped mall plaza. It reminded me of some of the things I love about Iowa.
Your vantage point may be different from mine. If you see Iowa from 30,000 feet, or perhaps whizzing through on I-80 at 70 mph, you don’t see what I see.
From my vantage point this evening, I saw feet. Settled into grass rough as a boar’s bristle hair brush, I ate my barbecued brisket sandwich and cole slaw, and I saw feet. Women’s feet, clad in rubber flip flops, towering high heels, strappy sandals, ballet flats. Stretched out in front of me, my own feet, the exception: clad in thick crew socks greyed from a laundry mishap, and a pair of athletic shoes.
Children, little boys with pale skin, pinked from the heat and sun. Many have blond or reddish hair — the northern European genes still run strong in this part of the state. Other little boys with their chocolate brown skin and tightly curled hair. Little girls, towheads with tank tops and tiny skirts, and dark-haired girls, dressed the same, all holding tightly to a parent’s hand.
I remember passages of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s book Little House in the Big Woods, where she so aptly describes the swirling skirts dancing at Grandmother Ingalls’ house, all from the viewpoint of a small child. I think of my view from the ground, how limited my scope is here, how little I see.
Looking up I see more, taller children, young adults, young families pushing their strollers. Varying colors and attire, still they seem much the same. The police officer stands out in his uniform, though. He sports a painted pirate patch over one eye and a curling mustache, lending unexpected panache to his appearance.
The next generation older, those of us in our 40s, 50s, 60s, we are more diverse. Men wear tank tops or polo shirts or Sturgis rally t-shirts. They have long hair and crew cuts, beards and smoothly shaved faces. Dew rags and straw hats and ball caps… If you think all Iowa men wear “farmer” caps, John Deere or Case caps, let me assure you it isn’t so. Half the men I saw tonight in their 60s look like old hippies, and the others looked like anyone’s neighbor.
THIS is Iowa. Iowa is not what you see from 30,000 feet, nor speeding by on our main highway. Iowa is not defined by our agriculture or our industry or even our presidential caucuses.
Iowa is our people and how we come together. We come together at the North Liberty BBQ and Blues Fest this evening, at the Kalona Fall Festival, at Hooverfest and the Iowa City Jazz Festival, and hundreds of festivals across the state, across the year. We come together at the farmers’ markets and the football games and community concerts, at churches and synagogues and the Mother Mosque of America. We grant each other a high degree of tolerance and respect.
We are not well represented by the fringe elements proposing a radical GOP platform. We are not well represented by the vile and reprehensible Steve King. We are purple, not red. We are well-educated and rational. We love jazz and blues. We have a long history of progressive civil rights laws, and we were one of the first states in the nation to welcome marriage equality.
What you see from a distance is not what I see. The view from afar does not show you our people, our faces, our children of many colors. The view from the ground is different, is real, and is the future. THIS is Iowa.