Where We Belong

July 4, 2010 | 15 comments

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.

The party was still rocking, but my girls and I 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 only 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
we’ll aaaah,
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.


I’m reminiscing. This is a repost from the archives, reminding me about the beauty of tradition. This year, the Old Girl (aka Inwood, Iowa) turned 126. And the party looked pretty much the same. I fall more in love with the Old Girl every year …

Happy Fourth, dear friends.

by | July 4, 2010 | 15 comments


  1. Kelly Langner Sauer

    you make me want to be a northeast Iowa redneck…

  2. S. Etole

    Sounds like my hometown … only there are only 600 souls in it … and it's a bit further north.

  3. Ann Voskamp @Holy Experience

    Just loved this, Jennifer.

    God places us where we live… and then we feel exactly what your daughter feels.

    And the sign by the church? Made me smile!
    What a way to cheer a community….

    So grateful for community with you….

    All's grace,

  4. Missie

    Hope you had a Happy Fourth!

  5. Charity Singleton

    It's a rare posture of maturity your daughter has, to believe the best place to be is right where she is. All too often weakens our whole lives looking for a better place. I even felt a twinge of that here, reading about your town. Your old girl sounds great, and for a moment I thought, "I wish I lived *there*.

    Loved this post.

  6. Lyla Lindquist

    It is where you belong. I think there is no question of this…

  7. Stephani

    I love small towns, and I love your daugther's insight into the best place being right where you are. We can be assured of that when we trust our lives to God's will and direction! ~ I sure learn a lot from your daughter!

  8. Nancy

    Such a fan of rednecks and locals and hometown pride. And you're right–that longing to be known, to be at home runs deep. Thanks for painting such a lovely picture with your words.

  9. Laura

    I am grinning from ear to ear. A lawn mower parade? Really? Now this I have to see. Photos please.

    You know what? I think your town is so special because it's home to you and your girl Lydia. What a lucky town to host you in its heart.

  10. Beth E.

    We live in a small town, too. We love the sense of community and the loving, caring people. I guess the saying "Home is where the heart is" rings true…THAT'S what makes your (and my) town the best town. 🙂

  11. B. Meandering

    I loved many aspects of my little town, yet I couldn't wait to leave it for college and then the world. The world ended up being a small 'city' (am still not convinced it fits that title)30 minutes from my small town, living with a husband who made fun of my little town. I yearned for my small town, but didn't come back much because it was sacred to me therefore I protected it from his scorn. Many years later and a 6 year stint in a 'real' city, I'm back home and loving it. And my grandkids love to come from that suedo city 30 min's away to this small town!

  12. A Simple Country Girl

    Oh you know this post is so bittersweet to me, right? I yearn for the roots and long for the place where I belong…

    What beauty you have painted here.

  13. alicia

    Oh small towns are just the best. Inwood is a pretty great small town, yes. And I agree that Orange City feels perfect when you live there too. 😉

  14. Jennifer @ Getting Down With Jesus

    Ha! Alicia! How cool is that? The girl from Orange City commenting on a post that includes Orange City. (You do have a mighty fine town.)

  15. Anne Lang Bundy

    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.

    And how many of us can live half a century and still find ourselves screaming for the same thing?

    I very much hope I get to see your hometown … perhaps in the not too distant future. Perhaps.

    My love to you!


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