Friday, September 29, 2017

First Impressions


Off to a fabulous start in Iowa City. A charming airport with international flags hung, two lovely (in all senses of that word) Orff Chapter women to pick me up, good conversation in the car and my gratitude that they opted for a charming bed and breakfast in a neighborhood over a generic Hampton Inn on the strip mall. Beautiful old house in a neighborhood with large trees, front and back lawns, old houses with character. Really, the quintessential all-American town of Frank Capra movies and 50’s TV sitcoms, but with a twist: signs on the porch that say Black Lives Matter or All Are Welcome Here.

And let’s face it. This kind of town, though not exactly mine growing up in New Jersey, was the mythos I grew up with, the image that resonated with my identity as an American, complete with Ma and Pa stores, cordial and friendly greetings, a sense of tranquility as one strolled beneath the oak and maple trees with a summer ice cream cone or a Fall pile of leaves to jump into or a winter coziness with sledding hills and smoke from chimneys or a Spring renewal as the robins returned and the tulips bloomed. And there’s not a thing wrong with that image.

Except…

…for the harsh reality that other Americans growing up with the same mythos were denied the right to live in places like this. And others living not too far away were denied their right to live at all as the lynching mobs gathered. And many living in small towns were—and are—kept purposefully ignorant of those other realities so that their sense of normal was manufactured by others with an agenda of keeping that American dream limited to the people of their choice. While the country was being held together and made prosperous by the labor of those denied access, who were then called lazy.

And for what? What if Beaver’s best fried was black and June’s good friend was Latina and Ward hung out with a Muslim co-worker and Eddie was gay? Wouldn’t life in small town America have been more genuinely happy and certainly more interesting? What if Ozzie was doing Zen meditation and Harriet was going to Feminist meetings and Ricky was hanging out in jazz clubs and Dave going to his girlfriend’s QuinceƱero? Couldn’t they all go to the County Fair together and go to a baseball game and recite the Pledge of Allegiance and really mean what they said when they got to “with liberty and justice for all?” Not have to qualify or quibble or hide or search for euphenisms for what “all” means?

I guess I’m at the age when I’m starting to say, “I won’t live to see the day,” but hey, America, why not? Let’s get moving here so my grandchildren can live peacefully, inclusively, happily in places like Iowa City. If they want to.

I’m off to walk the neighborhood. Maybe I can find their future home.

P.S. I wrote the above before walking downtown and it immediately became clear that my mixed-race grandchildren could live happily in Iowa City right now! I passed by several interracial couples, the Middle Eastern restaurant, played a piano put out on the lovely pedestrian mall, went into Prairie Lights Bookstore with its Banned Books Section. Like my college town, Yellow Springs in Ohio, it's a liberal bubble in a conservative state, but it's a good start. Heck, I might even move here myself!

1 comment:

  1. Always good to read you. There is an expression in french that says: tu as une belle plume. I think I could translate it to this: you are a gifted writer. I prefer the french expression because it refers to the time people use to write with a feather and ink. Then, translated word to word it would look like this: you are a writer with a beautiful feather!! Take care Doug!

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