In northwest Iowa

I have been coming here ever since I can remember. My father worked this land, weeding beans, feeding livestock. My grandmother grew up here, in the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s. Her father grew up here, in the dawn of agricultural industrialism. So when I drive up the lane, the smell of the place hits me, familiar, hazy.

Almost otherworldly, as I walk through rooms lined in portraits of dead people with hints of myself in them, hardy Scandinavian farmer stock descended illegitimately from Swedish royalty and raised with particular ideas about classy living. Determined and duty-bound, they raised this place from the virgin prairie, adding genteel flourishes like a grassy tennis court in between the ravages of prairie fires and the swarms of grasshoppers that ate everything, down to the lace curtains.

In the basement are evening gowns made of silk, dolls, baby clothes, quilts, boxes of papers and books, all raided, no doubt, by decades of mice. There are the bushes I carved into a playhouse one idyllic summer when I was nine.

And in the humid afternoon I fall asleep in the house my grandmother and great-grandfather were born in, lulled by the cicadas, the morning doves. I wander over to the big house, built in 1955, and find my grandmother holding my niece and a very small glass of beer, which she sips, savoring the treat and the fresh, limp infant in her arms. This baby is our sixth generation. Her great-great-great-grandfather wrote a stack of letters, in Swedish, describing this land and his children to his in-laws, in the 1880s. We got the letters back after distant cousins in Sweden found them in an attic and tracked us down. Not that any of us can read Swedish.

This is a family reunion and more than not, we separate, swimming in a near-embryonic sea of vague memory, hearing the pulse we have not heard in so long.

3 thoughts on “In northwest Iowa

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