Farmgirl is adapted from a picture borrowed from the Belmond Area Arts Council.
I was born in Mason City, Iowa (the original River City of Meredith Wilson’s Broadway musical, the Music Man). But my parents didn’t hold with no big-city Ioway sort of life, so we eventually moved to my mother’s home town, Rowan, Iowa. It was roughly about 275 people (if you count the squirrels… which a lot of the townsfolk were… qualified squirrels). My two maternal uncles and my grand parents were busy maintaining the family farm there, and though I lived in town because Dad was an accountant for a seed corn company instead of the farmer he grew up as… I got more than my fair share of farming-type opportunity. You know the stuff… shoveling pig poo… cow poo too… I got to help feed the chickens (and get chased by roosters, and get pecked by hens when we checked their nests for eggs, and watch the rooster rodeos as revenge for all the chasings… because roosters don’t lay eggs and the only thing they are really good for in an egg farming setting is lopping their heads off, and watching them flop around like rodeo bulls with no heads for fifteen minutes until they finally figured out they were dead, then plucking ’em and watching Grandma Aldrich cook ’em). I got to drive a tractor, although they didn’t trust me to do more than the simplest of tractor-driving jobs like pulling the hay rake. I got to shovel chicken poo out of the hen house and out of the brooder house. (Notice how a lot of the world of the lowly farm boy centers somehow on poo?) It was a rustic rural life reminiscent of Norman Rockwell… although he depicted mostly town life and not as much of the fields and animal pens (and poo) that are central to Iowegian farm culture.
Brent Clarke is a me character in my stories… but also one of my farm boy friends.
Growing up a farm boy has a few advantages to go along with the many drawbacks. First off, you learn young where babies come from. Piglets and calves and puppies and kittens are not born in secret. And it doesn’t take much spying out on farm life to learn how those baby animals are made either. There is ample opportunity to learn what you are not supposed to learn at a young age from farm girls too… but we were gentlemen… and extremely embarrassed by the fact that baby people are made in the same grisly, awful way that baby animals are out in the barn.
You also learn to be somewhat self-sufficient. I learned how to tend a garden. I learned how to fix a flat. I learned how to repair a roof and build a rabbit pen. Hammer, pliers, screwdriver, saw… I learned to use them all and make stuff. Crude stuff, sure… smashed-finger-with-hammer-stuff too. I made a bookshelf in shop class that had a bit of Michael blood built into it. But I learned things that boys should know, and really don’t any more.
So, I guess I am claiming that because I am an Iowa boy… a farm boy… and despite my many short-comings and short-changings my life has been good and worthwhile… being a farm boy is good. And one of the greatest shames of the modern world is this… there just aren’t many farm boys any more.
I was born in the 1950’s in Mason City, Iowa… the town that produced Meredith Wilson, the creator of the Broadway Musical, The Music Man. Yes, River City in The Music Man is Mason City. So I was born into a unique Midwestern farm-town heritage where swindlers came to town and saved the day with music and an eleventh-hour change of heart. I was born into the land of Chmielewski Fun Time on the black-and-white TV, Lawrence Welk champagne accordion music, and the Beer-Barrel Polka, courtesy of loads and loads of German ancestry. I am that unique crossbreed of Scandahoovian and sqare-headed Deutschmann known by the only slightly racist term of Iowegian.
Land of Long Winter and the ice-storm breezin’ down the plains.
And if you ask an Iowegian if he loves Iowa, he will answer, “You bet!”
And if you ask a northern Iowegian the same thing, he will say “You betcha!”
Iowans talk funny, don’t you know…
There are still corner stores and farm supply stores, though they have gone to brand names now, like Casey’s, BP, and Tractor Supply Co. You can still find HyVee and Safeway grocery stores. There are still a precious few family farms that haven’t been swallowed whole by big corporations and agri-businesses. If you go to the county fairs, you will still find kids showing the cattle or pigs that they raised for 4-H projects, and if you go into the barns after the auction, they are still producing tearful kids hugging and kissing that calf that won a red ribbon and now has to be sold… and they will never see poor Barney or Moo-berry again…
It is the land of the lonely gravel road… the back-street cattle pen… the Saturday night tornado (nearly every Saturday in Spring)… The VFW and the Lion’s Club Fish Fry at Lake Cornelia….And it is a place where most everything reeks of the past and old ghosts and times long gone, soon to never be remembered because there’s no longer anybody around who is old enough to tell the stories that grandparents and aunts and uncles used to tell. I not only miss it desperately, but I feel deeply saddened by the loss. Would I like to go home again?
Yes, Iowa is a State with very little going on. Not overly populated. Not a center of arts and culture and the avant garde. In fact, it is a State so literally boring that it is a perfect place for someone like me with cancer of the imagination to live. I grew up in the town of Rowan, Iowa. 275 people if you count the squirrels (and believe me, some of the squirrels are premium corn-nuts). I confess to peopling the place with the characters and creatures that welled up from the crazy, dark depths of my imagination. Yes, they were real people, but the things I knew about their secret lives as international spies and alien invaders masquerading as humans were probably not provably accurate.
There was a time when alien potato people gave me an embryo to guard that would be raised as a human being. When I showed it to my friends, they claimed it was a carved potato with spherical-headed pins for eyes. Now how were they going to pass off a carved potato as a human being when they wanted him to take his place as a Russian cosmonaut to interfere with the space programs of two countries? And how did they expect a twelve-year-old boy to make a carved potato grow up to look and act like a human being? Alien potato people never adequately explain themselves.
And Iowa girls are something else that you have to see to believe. Are they pretty? Well, I went to Moo-U, Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa. Why did they always call it Moo U. or Cow College? Well, more than one of my friends told me that it wasn’t because it was an agriculture and mechanics sort of college. Oh, it was definitely that. But they suggested all the girls at Moo U. were fat and desperate and at college to get an M.R.S. degree with a specialty in ball-and-chain. I must admit to being chased by a couple of cow-shaped co-eds, but I always found Iowa girls to be absolutely fascinating. I always imagined them in bikinis and nearly nude, even though, with Iowa weather, there is really only about fifteen minutes a year in August when you could really say we had bikini weather.
I was thirteen in 1969 when Neil Armstrong first stepped on the moon. My dreams were space fantasies. My connections with alien invaders were nearly exposed by the potato-people’s embryo snafu, but most of my day-dreams took me to Mars alongside Alicia Stewart, the prettiest girl in my sixth-grade classroom. She was always wearing a bikini when we explored Mars… usually underneath her space suit… her see-through glass-and-plastic space suit.
So, as I claimed in the the title, space-girls come from Iowa. At least, in my mind they do. In my feverish retro teen-aged imagination they do. And if I can continue to successfully put fiction into print before I die, you will probably see a lot more of them.
This is a picture of the main character of my not-yet-published novel, Snow Babies.