after no sleep and buzzing on my happy high from going out the night before, i landed in des moines, iowa to 71 degrees of sprinkling rain. rain is my favorite weather. 68-74 degrees are my favorite temperatures. iowa is green in august. texas is brown in august. i hadn’t been to iowa during the summer in more than 11 years. i had forgotten that iowa’s green rolling hills with fields of corn and soybeans are brightly beautiful. i had forgotten that iowa feels like home in part of my secret heart that i keep locked away with the rest of my childhood.
i drove my rental car directly to the mall to find clothes that make sense for me to wear while congregating with relatives on farms in iowa. i walked around the mall avoiding the kinds of stores where i might buy clothes i could like. i ended up at jcpenny. i avoided the juniors’ section where something tempting might have snuck onto the racks. i walked to the unfamiliar women’s section. i found my extra small size on the clearance racks, chose an armful, and headed to the dressing room. three outfits later i noticed a pattern emerging: everything i tried on made me look like my mother. a split second later i deduced that my mother shops at jcpenny. which is good, i guess, because it meant that i was shopping at an appropriate clothier to meet my objective. and i had a minor anxiety attack in the dressing room looking at the reflection of the me-as-my-mother transformation via clothes from a national chain department store.
after much stress, zero sleep, and little food, i bought fuchsia shorts (a color my mother would never wear) that hit me at modest mid-thigh and a blousy tank without shape or style that seemed passable through the filter i attribute to my mother’s judgments. i exited the mall to the greeting of sprinkled 71 degree rain kisses. every direction offered a hilly green view. i checked into my hotel, took a nap, and avoided my mother’s phone calls for the rest of the evening. i skipped every family obligation that first day and hung out alone, stocking up on whiskey and emotional fortitude for the next day.
the next morning i went for a long run on a tree-lined trail that criss-crossed over a smallish stream via beautiful wooden bridges again and again for miles and miles. iowa loves its wooden bridges. iowa invents reasons to build lovely wooden bridges. i procrastinated for several hours until my lateness was increasing my anxiety beyond the dread of my mother’s wrath and i drove 70 miles west to my uncle’s farm. i was the last to arrive, later than everyone else by a couple hours. i entered the house while the family was seated and eating dinner. i gave hugs to the kiddos that got up and ran to greet me. i quickly escaped to the garage where the men had separated themselves from my mother and her sisters (their wives), offering a bottle of whiskey as my entrance ticket. they accepted the whiskey. they tolerated me.
i won all the haybale races except one. i lost to my baby brother whose legs are 13 inches longer than mine, and he only beat me by half a foot. later (after my mom left), the girls beat the boys in drunk kickball because we cheated. i’m an excellent cheat at kickball. my catching-and-outing skills are decent. my stealing bases skills are slick. we won, that’s what matters.
the next day i hiked the tree-lined wooden-bridge trail again for miles while procrastinating driving 60 miles east to my aunt’s farm. one of my cousins arrived a few minutes later than i did, which made me feel better. i rode a horse, chased godchildren (who are also my second cousins) to the top of stacked straw bales, played with barely born barn kittens, shot automatic weapons (which frighten horses and small children when fired), and rode four-wheelers in the backcountry. i ate venison sausage and held babies and taught little girls to hula hoop in-between dusting off and rocking out my farm girl skills.
today i met my family at the state fair and stood on stage with them wearing our custom-made matching t-shirts to receive a century award for the family farm. that’s the official reason we’ve gathered in iowa this week. ten minutes after the photo was taken, i walked several blocks back to the yard where i paid someone $5 to let me park my car. state fairs freak me out with their oversized livestock and oversized fried foods and traveling exotic petting zoos. by noon today, i’d claimed myself off-duty. i bailed without goodbyes. my family has come to expect no goodbyes from me. they can trust me to show up late for hellos in another 11 years or so.