I drove down main street, past the hardware store, post office and city hall, then steered west into orange sky — toward home. The girls were buckled in, nestled in — looking through half-open eyes out gravel-dusted windows.
Our week has been packed with parties for a 125-year-old friend.
Born in 1884, the honored guest — and host — is our hometown. In return for her years of raising farmers and factory workers, schoolteachers and soldiers, we gave her a party this week. There’s a fancy word for it: “quasquicentennial.”
We’ve had a car show, a luau and a lawnmower parade through town. We’ve cruised her streets in old Mustangs and hayracks and shiny firetrucks. We’ve serenaded her with a cantata and sock-hop songs. We’ve scooped root-beer floats and eaten pork sandwiches, which were flipped on a streetside grill by men who grew up under her grooming.
We wore prairie dresses and big-brimmed bonnets, while men scratched at bushy beards that will be gone by Monday.
This is what Iowa folks do when their towns grow old.
After all these years, you’d think the Old Girl would be tuckered out. She’s showing signs of age, but on this night, she would stay awake for more. She’s in the spotlight, you know, and she’s dressed in flags and red petunias.
My girls and I, though, packed up and headed home past chest-high corn and rows of soybeans.
“Mommy,” came the voice. “Did you know that we live in the best town in the United States, maybe even the whole world?”
“Is that so?” I responded. “What makes ours the best?”
“I don’t know. … The pool?”
“Could be,” I said, careful not to bruise her hometown pride by reminding her that our pool is in serious disrepair.
She considered more reasons. “Oh, and God is in our town,” she said. Then again, she figured, God is probably in every town.
“Yes, Lydia,” I offered. “He probably is.”
A pause …
I looked in the rearview mirror.
“I don’t know why, Mom, but it is the best,” she said.
“If you don’t know why ours is the best town,” I asked, “how can you say it is?”
“It says so on that big sign by the church,” she said.
Sign or no sign, Lydia said, it was true. She also said she’d probably feel the same way if she lived in Orange City, or Des Moines or somewhere in California. The way Lydia sees things, the best place to be … is where she is.
We all want to feel like we belong where our feet are planted. God made us that way. Each one of us came out of our mothers’ wombs screaming for someone to love us, hold us and assure us that we were a part of something bigger than ourselves.
We all long to belong. And with belonging, comes contentment. Growing up, I always imagined I’d find both in the city.
Surely, it would be easy finding companionship among millions of beating hearts. But it’s here — in a town home to no more than 900 souls — where I found a place to belong.
Call me a hick. Call me a northwest Iowa redneck. But I have found community here:
* At the curb, watching a Fourth of July parade roll by, with candy-throwing politicians, church floats on flatbeds and high school marching bands.
* In a town with no streetlights, one bar, no grocery store, and two places to fill up with gas.
* On the bleachers of our town’s only park, cheering on 40-year-olds who haven’t swung a baseball bat in years.
* And under a black curve of sky, decorated with sparkling diamonds, waiting for a Fourth of July show against Heaven’s jeweled backdrop.
We’ll oooh, and
and we’ll fold up our lawn chairs
and all go home talking about what a great week it was,
how we ought to do this more often
and how we surely live in the finest place on Earth.
As you celebrate freedom this weekend, may you find that the best place you could possibly be …
is right where you are.