I think my dad was the one who came up with the idea to visit some places together where we used to live, during our trip back to Iowa. I’m so glad he did. Of the places I lived in during my time in Iowa- West Des Moines, Ankeny… Ames is dearest to my heart and holds the most memories for me. It’s a sweet little town and will always have a cozy feeling to me. On the second day of our trip, Bracken and I met up with my dad and stepmom, and my sister and brother-in-law, and went on a drive down memory lane. We visited places we’d lived throughout Ames, as well as places our grandparents or aunts and uncles once lived, and it was amazing how many memories came flooding back.
The white house on Franklin. My grandparents lived in that house since my mom was little. (I want to say since she was four.) That house reminds me of Thanksgiving and Christmas, of family gatherings and celebrations. Remember that hill in the back that was perfect for sledding? And the tree that made the ideal fort underneath with a floor of pine needles? Remember the way Mom and Grandma would walk around the yard holding their cups of tea while they admired Grandma’s flowers? Remember the nature walks and bringing home our bags of nature treasures? Remember the way Grandpa always sang and whistled in the car when he picked us up? Remember the way we left notes in the breezeway before we left every time? That house makes me think of card games and watching the birds out the window at the feeder, and laying by the fire with our blankets when we wanted to be cozy. It makes me think of roast beef, mashed potatoes and gravy, sweet corn, and squash pie. And the world’s best strawberry rhubarb jelly. Oh, and homemade pizza and chocolate pudding. Remember our goofy uncles always making us laugh? Remember the games of hide and seek in the basement with all the cousins? We had so much fun together.
The trailer. My sister and I lived there with my dad for a short while. When we drove by to see it, the trailer was gone, but we looked at the spot and remembered. That old tree was gone. Remember the one I climbed in and hung upside down from? I remember it so well because I fell on my head and didn’t want to hang from it again. Remember the giant, giant sand bag pile that we climbed to the top of that felt like a mountain? The sandbags didn’t stop the flood of ’93 from covering the entire area in deep water and we had to leave for awhile. Remember that amazing snow fort we built? And watching the stars in the field at night? That was the field where Sam learned how to ride a bike. Remember the bunk beds Grandpa built and Dad getting us to sleep with “floating on a cloud”? Remember catching the fireflies? And dressing up in Dad’s self-defense gear (he taught classes) and putting on shows? Remember thinking we were lost in the cornfield (but we had adults with us)? Remember when the tornado came and we had to drive down the road to our grandparent’s house as quick as we could? Remember that same night when the lights were out and the wax from the candles dripped all over my clothes and Grandpa K watched the tornado miss the front of the house, swing around the side and twist the tree in the back?
The house with the canal out back. We moved in with my stepmom and stepsisters to the white house for a short while. Remember the creek in the back where the neighbor boys caught crawdads? Remember that rope swing that went across the creek? Someone used it and it broke. Who was that again? Remember walking down the canal to the bridge? Remember when we rode our bikes way, way out to that gravel road on the edge of town and down to the big bridge? The bridge is closed now, we saw the sign when we drove past. Remember our walks through the woods to the playground? Remember going across the street to Grandma Zoe’s and playing behind her house? What was it called there? The “pitts”? We made some great forts there. Remember that time I was walking our dog Gretel there and she chased after a squirrel and I fell down that ledge? Remember the time the pet mouse got loose in the house and ran up a pant leg?
The house on Onyx. I moved there with my sister, dad, stepmom, and stepsisters, so everyone could have their own room. There was a field across the street, but now it’s all houses. Remember the home videos we made? Remember the trampoline out back? And that night we tried to camp out there, but got too scared and came inside? Remember our bike rides out to the animal shelter to visit the animals? Remember that one time we rode out past the nursery to that abandoned building and then got that feeling to get out of there and
ran biked back home? Remember the sidewalk in the backyard that led to the grandparent’s house and to our aunt and uncle’s place on the corner? Remember going to the pool in the summertime? Someone told me it’s not there anymore. Remember all those glow in the dark stars that I covered the ceiling of my bedroom with? It looked so cool in there at night. Remember the thunderstorms that lit up the sky and made the house rumble on those sticky summer nights? God, I loved those.
The brown house. Well, it was brown. Now it looks so different. Our Baker grandparents lived there. We lived in that house for a short while when I was really young. Remember picking strawberries and raspberries along the side of the house? Remember when we got stung by wasps when we were playing with the neighbor boys? Remember pretending we were mermaids in the hot tub? Remember baking cookies with Grandma? Remember those leftover wood bits that Grandpa would give to us in his wood shop? We glued them onto boards and made dollhouses. Remember the glass jars filled with peaches and pears in the basement? Remember the shed Grandpa built that made the perfect playhouse with a bridge from the deck leading to it that felt so magical? Remember the bright pink house down the street? It’s not pink anymore. Remember when we were playing in the camper and it started to tip over and we all ran out in time? Remember that walk with our uncle when he identified all those animal tracks? Remember the insects and snakes Grandpa always caught and showed us?
We drove past the spot in the road with the bump where we always begged my dad to drive faster. I drove past “Stick Head” with Bracken. Ahh, Stick Head. He was a statue that once had sticks for hair, but now he is made of metal. My sister and I made up a game that whenever we drove past that statue, the first person to shout “Stick Head, I remembered it!” won. (Sometimes she shouted it before the statue was in sight and I told her she was cheating, whereupon much arguing would ensue.) And we drove past our “make a wish” poles. The tall poles on the drive from my dad’s house to my mom’s house. They had flashing lights at night and when we were driving past them and the poles crossed, we would always make a wish. I never grew out of that. When I saw them on this trip, I made my wish each time they crossed, and Bracken joined me and made his wish too. Oh, and we visited the old Jensen farm (where my Grandpa grew up), for my mom. The farm isn’t there anymore and neither is the barn or any of the buildings. Now there’s dirt, and machines, and a paved road where houses will go. I still remember the gigantic family reunions there, where I had no idea how I was related to everybody. The pigs were quite stinky and I thought all farms smelled that way. There are so many memories and more places to see than we could have driven past. I remembered our babysitter’s house, going on the slip and slide on hot summer days, and putting cicada shells on our shirts like broaches to scare each other.
I’m so glad we took that time to drive around our old stomping grounds together. That was so fun remembering. Remembering my childhood and my Iowa roots. Of course we all have painful memories too, hard parts of our life, but this trip for me was all about remembering my happiest childhood memories. Sometimes I’ll smell a scent and be flooded with memories, I’m sure that happens to you. Actually driving past so many places of my childhood brought back memories I hadn’t thought of in many years. Now my grandparents have moved to new houses. My mom is in Florida. My dad and stepmom are in Oregon. My sister is in Colorado and my stepsisters are in Washington and Texas. Family is spread all over the place, and fewer relatives live in Iowa than once did. Things have changed, the towns have grown. And some things carry on. When we visit my grandma at her new home now, Bracken plays with the toys (the house and barn bought in 1969) that went through my mom and her brothers, and then all the grandkids. I remember playing with those same toys so many times. We watch the birds out her window as we always did, and we make new memories too. Remembering the favorite parts of my childhood makes me think of the kind of childhood memories I want for Bracken. Outside adventures. Family. Love. All that good stuff that still makes me smile.