Nelson's View

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Iowa's small towns have stories to tell

Hey, what's Kevin Costner doing in my backyard?

Actor Kevin Costner was just a few miles from the house I was raised in (where my parents still reside) just weeks ago singing with his band "Modern West," in a rural barn (owned by someone I know - great thing about small town life.) When I think Costner I think of 'Field of Dreams,' 'Dances with Wolves,' and 'Message in a Bottle,' I had no idea he was a singer. One of the songs on the group's 'Untold Truths' album is titled "Leland, IA." At first my reaction was... why? There's nothing there. The town's population is only about 250. Then I heard the song, not bad. Turns out one of the guitarists wrote the song because his wife's family is originally from there. Small world.

The song talks about the struggles of this rural Iowan town but I think it speaks for a lot of smaller midwestern towns. "You can't spend a dime in Leland, Iowa, cause every store in town's run out of luck." (Course Leland got lucky with this extra bit of notoriety.)

I grew up near a similar size town that many people have never heard of - Joice. If anyone around here knows of it, it is probably because it's home to the 'Top of Iowa' wind farm. We can see it from the hill in our yard. For many years we could see the steeple of a country church but then the church closed its doors due to a declining congregation population. The church is gone, turbines are in. The rural scenery changes.

Many of the buildings in these rural towns stand empty unfortunately. "There used to be a diner where everyone would go and that building on the corner used to be a picture show." As I recall the man who owned the barn where Costner performed owned a woodworking shop in the town but it burned to the ground one year. "You should've seen it in the summer around the 4th of July when fireworks and carnivals were lightin' up the sky." I bet if those buildings could talk - they'd have some stories to tell.

The song also talks about the people that live in this small town and what their lives are like. It's second nature to help out your neighbor when they needed help, help raise each other's kids. "Living on a farm - working on your pickup truck.... Raising kids and growing corn." You knew you'd never go hungry, course if you hung around the farm families too long - they'd put you to work. It was worth it; they'd take us for a ride in the tractor or combine. I could rollerblade the whole town of Joice in just a matter of minutes as a kid. My mom didn't have to worry. These are good places for raising children.

"Imagine all the people who came and had to go, look for something better in a dream on down the road." I left to pursue my dreams too, but the small town will always be in my blood.