I may not have been herding sheep but taking even a small group of college students on a road trip can be a wandering and confusing drive. Where were those idyllic moments when I expected to be gazing at the lovely Iowa countryside or the moments when I would pull over to photograph another gorgeous barn with a quilt painted on the side?
Instead, I was driving a long silver van in the pouring rain, trying simply to see the road, let alone notice any picturesque barns. I had anticipated pointing out interesting roadside scenes and images, drawing my students into a stimulating discussion about life in Iowa. I found, instead, that only Abbie sitting beside me and Ahalya sitting directly behind me could hear what I said, so I would turn my head and point out something to Ahalya, and she would turn and point out that something to Marin sitting behind her and from Marin on to Brendan and finally to Kitty sitting in the very back of the van. By that time, we were miles from whatever it was I was pointing out. Like the childhood game of rumor, intention was lost in the transmission.
But, as can be the case, out of chaos came wonderful moments and experiences. We were charmed by a treasure in the tiny town of Eldon, Iowa, where we stopped to visit the house in the American Gothic painting, and were warmly welcomed by the friendly site administrator, Molly Moser.
Everyone agreed Molly had the ideal job–organizing displays of memorabilia (including a Babar illustration done in the American Gothic pose!), writing grants, creating PR, planting flower beds, being a tour guide. Talk about variety and fun in your workday! Molly invited us to return on a weekend when the lady who rents this famous house serves pitchfork pie and coffee in the front yard.
Noon found us further south in the town of Bloomfield in a brightly colored Mexican restaurant called Ranchero Centinela. Vivid murals of rancheros covered the wall, evoking those Iowa farms I had only glimpsed through the rain. Inhaling the warm scents of cheese, beans, and peppers, our group gathered around a table and shared our favorite sensory images of the morning. The pungent memory of newly fertilized fields brought a few grins and groans.
Our afternoon excursion took us through a French Renaissance courthouse in the Bloomfield town square. A statue of the Goddess of Justice perched atop the courthouse dome, reigning over town and county. Then our looping roadtrip through southeastern Iowa ended in a block-long Mennonite country grocery in Cantril called The Dutchman’s Store. Old-time penny candy, home-canned goods, iron cookware, and stacks and stacks of flower-printed fabric tempted me greatly, the latter reminding me of the old quilting joke: The woman who dies with the most fabric in her closet wins!
For me, the trip was collected moments of students climbing into and out of the van, and watching for interesting sights in the passing scenery: a covered bridge, the Des Moines river, rolling hill after rolling hill of newly planted fields, and finally in the clearing sky, beautiful, quilt-decorated barns.
Southeastern Iowa is filled with rich sights and hidden treasures and those of us who followed the state’s back roads in a long silver van through the pouring rain on that damp April day will remember the rich tapestry of our day of wandering with pleasure.
Image: Courtesy of www.barnquilts.com