The Iowa way of life: Bore in and wait it out

EDITOR'S NOTEBOOK

BY ART CULLEN

You’ve probably heard before about those McKenna brothers who, in the pioneer days, jack-knifed with their mule team and covered wagon along Hwy. 7 near M50. In the ditch near Outlet Creek they knew they never could make it back to the Starlite in Fort Dodge for a warm bath and dry sheets. They would have to just bore into the side of yonder hill near Sulphur and wait out the winter.

As I have asked many times before, when spring broke what made them stay? Was it the promise of the meadowlark or, being McKennas, they sensed an impending uptick in the Chicago hog markets and knew that this was as good a place as any, since the weather was as miserable as on the old sod, to lay in a few sows.

And so it was written that we should be born out here in the relentless wind and ice and fire. Being Iowans, we did not have the good sense or self-confidence to go open a hillbilly Hilton in Branson, Mo., with live Andy Williams shows.

We stayed, by gum, because this land is our land.

And there Brother John planted his flag and wrist, on our land, last Tuesday as he retreated from another twice-weekly publishing victory. The orthopedic surgeon happened to be in town and was churning through splints like a Civil War general. He had not had a day like this since, well, since they took down the toboggan slide near King’s Pointe about 50 years ago. He was just a kid wishing he was a doctor that day, seeing all those pilgrims with broken femurs.

Jen Olson holds the record among us for falling three times — at home, in the Walmart parking lot and in front of the daycare holding her child who comfortably fell on top of her. She bounces better than John, being half his age, and has only a bruised ego out of it. I went down once, of course in our driveway from hell with about a 45-degree angle on the north side of the house. I will have to die in that house because nobody will ever buy a place with such a driveway, pocked and cracked by insane salting and cursing. It’s lovely in the fall — autumn, that is.

We of the land that the Divine forsook cling to it for the seasons, and because we can’t afford someplace else. Spring starts shortly after manure spreading in early June and ends on the 21st, whence we move into two weeks of summer that can be enjoyed before the skeeters emerge and it is insufferably hot. September is nice but for school starting, and the first ice storms usually resume in October. We all remember the Halloween ice storm when we were without power and, worse, cable TV. At least we had Hawkeye football.

Fording against currents like those, Midwesterners realized that they have to band together and build community to get through the blizzards and locusts. You can still feel exuberant when you clear out Bomgaars of ice-melt and then post an item on Facebook bragging about it. We hope he chokes on it. But if he chokes we hope that he dies pleasantly and that everyone would bring a covered dish to his funeral and clear his walks for the poor widow lady who did not mean to corner the market and now can’t sell it. People were crazy about salt. The entire town was sold out of it.

Tons upon tons are heaped on the streets and parking lots. Soon we will be able to float in the lake without life jackets. I was out there last Tuesday spraying my own tons of it on that driveway from hell and with one flip of the salt scoop my feet swept from beneath me. I was saved by my hip hitting the bag of ice. My mustache was in the slush, my pride shattered, my spirit resigned to endless wrath of Nature and bills from colleges like every day preceding it.

The rain came again Sunday night. I salted in anticipation. Monday morning, I looked over my work with a cup of coffee and saw that it was good. The ice was bubbled and decrepit. I had beat Nature, if only to back out with a modicum of safety. This is why we stay: the sense of accomplishment, that we can stick through it while those lolls lay on the beach at Belize, that our broken bones heal stronger and our immune systems can knock down any avian flu. We are the distant sons of Vikings, this is our destiny, our purpose: to persevere.

That’s what Garrison Keillor might tell us: We are above average, and we know how to drive on ice unlike those tax-sucking sliders trying to drive around the District of Columbia after an inch of snow. Adversity builds character. But he can afford a plane ticket to Galveston, where she is waiting on the beach where we used to run, but even there she is cryin’ and he’s afraid of dyin’ so you might as well just bore into a hill and wait this thing out. At least we have cable.