Category Archives: Iowa

Morning Comes to Grandpa’s Farm House

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Superman has his Fortress of Solitude.  Batman has his Batcave.  Every Superhero needs a place of his own to reflect on the trials and struggles of the never-ending battle for truth and justice and the American way.  I achieved another dawn today, waking up at sunrise on Grandpa Aldrich’s farm place.   It is for me a place of safety and quietude where I can rest and regenerate, plan, plot, and create the story of my life.

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It is a place far older than me, a family farm that has been in the family for more than 100 years.  It connects me to the past and the people who’ve come before me, not only the family I have known and loved, but those who came before them that were gone before I was born.

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It is possible that it is unwise to reveal my secret lair and my connections to such an important place.  Will my enemies take advantage of the fact? No, probably not.  Most of my enemies are ignorant people who do not read, and so, will never uncover this secret I have now shared with you.

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Filed under autobiography, commentary, family, homely art, humor, Iowa, photo paffoonies, self portrait

The County Fair 2018

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On the road to Eagle Grove, Iowa, site of the 2018 Wright County Fair

Yesterday we went to the Wright County Fair as it winds down on the last weekend.  My daughter and I went with my mother and father, all of us not ready to run any foot races, in fact, looking forward to viewing the small fair at a snail’s pace, two of us walking with canes.

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It has always been a small county fair.  But it has become almost depressing to see how much it has shrunk since I was a kid and competed there.  Of course the beneficent pumpkinhead that runs the country now has put a cloud over it all by cutting off farmers’ primary markets in the trade war with China.  Soon there may be no agriculture community at all to celebrate with a county fair.

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The Iowa Township Hawkeyes Club that I used to be a part of

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We toured the 4-H projects exhibit building and saw all the baking, woodworking, photography. and sewing projects that the kids in 4-H had worked on all year.  As always they were impressive in the way that enthusiastic kid-work inevitably is.  But it was depressing to see that there are only three 4-H clubs in Wright County now where once there were seven.  The elderly viewers of the goings-on outnumbered the kids about two to one.  Iowa’s farm community population is getting older and older.  Schools are shrinking.  People per county numbers are declining too.

 

But as depressing as the long-range view is, the County 4-H program is still giving kids a firm farm-kid grounding in the values that made America great.  It proves that pumpkinheads don’t need to try to make it great again.

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It is important to celebrate who we are and what we do.  Especially in a time when a tractor-and-cornfield way of life seems doomed.  And a county fair does that.  I helps us define who we are, what values we hold dear, and who we are determined to be for as long as we can be that.

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Filed under autobiography, Celebration, family, farming, feeling sorry for myself, humor, Iowa, photo paffoonies, strange and wonderful ideas about life

In Defense of Corny Jokes

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It will probably be clear that I am writing this post because I am currently reading 1941 daily strips from Al Capp’s Li’l Abner.

But I am definitely going to talk about corny jokes, not cheesy jokes, because I grew up in Iowa, not Wisconsin.

And, yes, that is example number one.

There is a certain way of telling a joke or tall tale that is unique to the farmyard.   And it does not contain chicken poop, but rather, corn.

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Of course, as you can see by this corn-colored definition of what corny means according to Collins Online Dictionary, the word is supposed to be an insult to corniness in jokery.  That doesn’t sit well with the people of Iowa, where the tall corn grows.  We are also obvious, sentimental, and not at all original.  And we are proud of it.  Corny360_2017-06-19-17-17-44-339

To tell a corny joke right, you have to set a simple scene, and make it clear what happened, and give the audience a simple cue for when to laugh.

For instance, there was the time that Cudgel Murphy had a cat problem with his car, the 1954 Austin Hereford that he has driven since dinosaurs walked the earth.  It seems there was this time in 1988 when he kept having engine trouble.  The engine would sputter and cough and die, and when Cudgel opened it, he would find a half-eaten dead pigeon or other random bird carcass gumming up the works.  He couldn’t for the life of him figure out how dead birds were getting into his car engine.  But his grandson Danny happened to see the neighbor’s big tabby tomcat carrying a pigeon he had killed under the front of Grampy’s car, apparently enjoying a fowl meal in the dark with a nice warm engine to lay the food on.  Sure enough, when they checked the engine later, there was the half-eaten dead bird laying across one end of the fan belt.

So Cudgel set up a vigil, assigning times for himself, Danny, and his younger grandson Mike to watch for signs of that damned cat taking another bird under the hood of the Austin. With only two day’s worth of watching under their belts, Mike came running into the Murphy kitchen with the news.

“Grampy!  I seen that damned cat taking a dead bird under your car!  He’s in there right now!”

So Cudgel rushed out, turned the engine on, and stomped on the gas.

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There were some worrisome thumps and bangs under the hood, and then the cat shot out from under the front of the car spewing howls and cat curses all the way up the nearest tree.

Cudgel laughed hard and finally caught his breath to say, “How about that, Mike?  I’ll bet James Bond doesn’t have a car that can shoot angry cats out the front!”

Now, before you chastise me for enjoying cruelty to cats, I hope you will remember that Cudgel Murphy is a fictional character, and I am merely illustrating the idea behind corny jokes.  And, besides, that cat really had it coming to him.

 

 

 

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Filed under goofy thoughts, humor, Iowa, Paffooney, satire, Uncategorized, writing humor

Singing Rock and Soul

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Yes, this is a picture of a rock.  But it is no ordinary rock.  Okay, that’s not precisely true.  It is a gray metamorphic rock roughly square in shape with numerous flecks of white and a white strip along the top.  As rocks go, it probably couldn’t be more ordinary, more rocky in its soul.  But, as with all things in this life, the importance and true meaning lies in the context.  This is a pocket rock.  It spent a quarter of a century riding around in my pants pocket.  I have held it in my hand millions of times.

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The Rowan Community Center, seen in this picture I used for the cover of Magical Miss Morgan, is the last part of the old Rowan school still standing.

In 1980, my Great Grandma Hinckley died.  That was also the year my folks had to move to Texas because of the transfer my Dad’s seedcorn company gave him to its cotton seed division.  It was one year before I got my teaching degree.  And it was the year they tore down the building where I went to school for grades 1 through 6.  That summer, as I walked around the demolition site, I found the homely gray rock that was nearly as square as I was, and because I was already feeling homesick before I actually left home, I picked it up  and stuck it in my pocket.  It was a little square piece of home.

That rock went with me to college.  It went with me to both Disneyland and Walt Disney World in Florida.  It has been to Washington D.C.  It has been in the depths of caves in Kentucky and Missouri and Texas.  It has been high in the sky in my pocket in an airplane.  It has been to beaches on both the Atlantic and Pacific sides of the U.S.  It has visited both Mexico and Canada.  It his been to Las Vegas.  And it even rode in the subways of New York City.

And possibly the most interesting part of this pocket rock’s career happened in Texas schools.  It was with me in my pocket constantly from 1980 to 2004.  I finally took it out of my pocket and placed it in an old cigar box that once belonged to my grandfather and I have kept keepsakes in since I was a kid.

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And I have thought a lot about this ordinary rock that isn’t really ordinary on closer inspection.  At one point or another I thought about using it as a skipping stone at both the Atlantic and the Pacific.  In 2004 when I was considering the pocket watch broken by it and the car key accidentally bent against it, it almost wound up in Lake Superior.  I put in my cigar box and it has remained exiled there since.  Will I have it buried with me, in my pocket?  No, probably not.  My wife plans to have me cremated.  Hopefully, though, not until I am already dead.  This rock has pretty much been a symbol of my soul, travelling with me, teaching with me, jingling the pocket change when I walk…  And it will continue to exist when the thinking and writing parts of Mickey are gone.

But even rocks are not immortal.  Sometime in the future something will happen to it.  It will end up someplace unexpected or changed by grinding, melting, or chemical reaction into some other form.  But no matter what happens to it ultimately, the meaning of it, the context, the places it has been and the things that it has done will still be true, still have happened to it.  And, ultimately, it will still be just like me.

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Filed under autobiography, goofy thoughts, humor, insight, Iowa, irony, Paffooney, photo paffoonies, strange and wonderful ideas about life

Homely People

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I prefer to write about, think about, and draw pictures of homely people. But don’t mistake me.  I am not talking about ugly people.    Our President, the giant blood sausage with a bird’s nest on top that we have put in charge of making us all feel sick to our stomachs every day, demonstrates what ugly means.  Ugly is not just weird and interesting to look at, it is also repellent behavior that makes physical flaws take a back seat… no, a rumble seat in the trailer behind by comparison.

I am talking about the ordinary people back home.  The ones that may be sitting by your own fireplace on a cold day trying to warm their hands after throwing snowballs outside.  And, of course, that snowball that hit Maggie Doozman in the side of the face and knocked her glasses off, made you laugh for an instant, until you realized she was crying, and Kirk Longhatter didn’t even apologize for throwing so hard, so you went over and picked her glasses up for her and handed them to her, and she smiled at you through the tears.  That is the kind of homely I mean.

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There is a lot that is beautiful in homely people. Sure, maybe not a classically beautiful Elizabeth Taylor face or a Gregory Peck lantern jaw.  Maybe not even a shapely behind or a graceful step when walking across the street.  But ordinary beauty.  Kindness.  Humility.  Determination in the face of long odds.  Good-natured jokery.  A touch of childish silliness.  A moon face that actually shines when a smile lights it up.  That is beauty that can be found in homely people.

You’ve probably figured out by now that this post is just an excuse to show off some goofy old off-kilter portraits I did.  But that doesn’t change the fact.  I do love homely people.

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Filed under artwork, autobiography, cartoons, characters, commentary, compassion, humor, insight, Iowa, Paffooney, strange and wonderful ideas about life

Driving Lessons

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My middle child, Henry, is sixteen and anxious to learn how to drive.  And like all young drivers, he has yet to get into his first accident, is awkward behind the wheel, and is determined to be the best driver the world has ever seen.  So, we gave him a driver’s instruction course, which he completed by July 15th, though he hasn’t taken the wheel yet in a driver’s ed car.  And I had to come to terms with the idea that, even though I shelled out more than 300 dollars to have someone else teach him to drive, I was still going to be the one riding in the passenger’s seat and cringing every time the car lurches towards oncoming traffic and hideous, painful death.

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I decided that since we were visiting Iowa where populations are shrinking and little towns like ours are dying, we might as well take advantage of nearly empty streets and lack of other drivers competing for road space.  We went to Rowan to practice driving.

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Of course I had forgotten how narrow the streets are in my little home town.  Some of the avenues can’t sustain two cars passing in opposite directions at once.  And there are more than a few junk cars, old tractors, and other wheeled things parked in the way, just begging to be hit and make a dent in our affordable insurance.

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Leave it to me to be multi-tasking while teaching the boy to drive the family battleship down the narrow streets of Rowan.  I wanted to take pictures to do this post.  I also wanted to take my mind off the depressing realization that Donald Trump will likely be the next president, and our lives will continue to go down hill as we are treated more and more like cash-generating farm animals for billionaires, corporations, and the owners of all the debt we have accrued by selfishly spending money on life’s necessities in order to keep on living.  We stopped to take a picture at the house I grew up in.  It was depressing to see that the house has not been painted since I put that blue paint on it when I was a teenager.  Dang!  I’m sixty now.  And the poor people who live there now couldn’t afford to paint it even once in the last forty-two years.

But even with all the potential distractions, we managed to practice driving and parking and driving again without any catastrophes or sudden fiery death.  We did pass the same lady walking her little white dog four different times on four different streets.  We only made a wide turn and nearly squished her dog one time.  And we only had one incident where he accidentally pressed the gas instead of the brake while the car was in reverse instead of drive.  Unfortunately, that happened on Main Street.  Fortunately, the one and only car parked on Main Street was in front of us and not behind us.  So we were successful.  An hour and a half of driving practice with no costly accidents and no blood or death.

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Filed under autobiography, humor, Iowa, kids, photo paffoonies, politics, self portrait, the road ahead

Dows, Iowa

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Bustling downtown Dows with the grain elevator in the background

There are many simple truths to be gleaned from a simple visit to the scene of your childhood.  You need every so often to get in touch with where you came from and the roots of who you are.  Dows is not the town where I grew up.  But we played them in 4-H softball, and we won almost as much as we lost to them.  It is a town near enough to my little home town to be a place that impacts who I am.

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You have no idea what this is, right?

Day before yesterday we went to Dows for a dinner with relatives.  My cousin and her second husband were there.  Her parents, my uncle who still lives on Uncle I.C.’s farm place that has been in the family for more than a hundred years, and my aunt who is going bald a bit, were also there.  We ate in a totally Pepsi-Cola-themed restaurant and had a Rueben pizza with roast beef and sauerkraut on it (talk about your total cultural potpourri!)  The experience taught me a simple lesson.  We come from a bizarre mixture of themes and things cooked together in a recipe for life that can never be repeated and cooked again for our children.

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You don’t order Coke here.

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We avoided talking about politics because Iowa is very conservative and none of us enjoy yelling at each other about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton using fact-free Fox News talking points and cow poop about how building a wall that Mexico pays for will cure all our economic problems because we all think we know how Hispanics moving into Iowa are ruining our lives.  So, instead, we talked about how Eaton’s machine tool manufacturing plant in Belmond is facing more lay-offs.

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The restored and re-purposed Dows’ Rock Island train station.

We talked about businesses that have gone out and not been replaced in the little Iowa towns around us.  We talked about how no one walks beans any more, walking the rows of soy beans to pull button weeds and cockle-burrs by hand and chop rogue corn with hoe.  We talked about how farming has gone to spraying weed-killing chemicals and factory-farming pigs instead.  It is a simple lesson in how ways of life come to an end and are not necessarily replaced with something better.

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There is an artist working on a patriotic project to put one of these in every county in Iowa.

We constantly remake ourselves as the world changes and ages around us.  Nothing lasts forever.  Life is a process of growing and withering and regrowing.  A simple word for that is “farming”.  Who we were impacts who we have become and will affect what comes after.  But we learn simple lessons from going to the places we love best and doing our dead-level best to get from there to here and move eventually to someplace beyond.  And Dows, Iowa is just one of those places… I guess.

 

 

 

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Filed under autobiography, family, farm boy, farming, feeling sorry for myself, humor, Iowa, photo paffoonies