Saturday, September 10, 2005

Part III: Coming "Home"

Wednesday morning, September 7, 2005: from a motel off I-80 near the burg of Walnut, Iowa, I set forth once more at dawn, to complete the remaining 210 miles of my journey to Waterloo. Conditions that morning were certainly nostalgic: clouds heavy on the horizon, with humidity such that not only had my car taken on the appearance of having sustained a heavy rain (it hadn't), but thick, at times almost impenetrable banks of fog and ground mist hovered along the low lying portions of the highway ahead. Shortly into resuming the trek, a blood red morning sun peered through the haze, providing a photo op I haven't seen in years (pictured at right).

After skirting what passes for rush hour traffic on the western edge of Des Moines -- and laughing at how puny it was, compared to that I've seen in Denver, along with a silent "thanks" that it was so -- I headed north on I-35, then east again on US 20. As the miles passed, the names of towns on sign posts became more and more familiar to me from another time, almost bringing me a feeling of proceeding forward and backward in Time at once. Finally, I passed a mile marker indicating Waterloo's southwestern outskirts were now but 5 miles ahead, and I began to seek familiar ground.

In vain; the build up along US 20 was not at all what I had expected in bucolic, Time-stands-still Iowa. Proof, though none was really needed, that the idea of Time standing still is an illusion, regardless of appearances.

Finally, I bailed off US 20 at the Highway 21 exit, and I was on recognizeable ground: I sat at a stop sign, only one air mile from the first farm and second of four houses I had once known as home back then, and but three times the distance from one of the schools I knew. A strange, nostalgic feeling came to the fore. If you've returned as an adult, to places of your childhood, you know the feeling. With some time to kill before I could check into my temporary home of the next two days, I decided to feed the nostalgia with a visit to that school.

As I reached the intersection of Hwy 21 and Orange Road, I was struck by the fact that the surrounding countryside looked just as I remembered it to, 34 years ago at this time of the year. Cornfields on both sides of the road, with corn stalks at full maturity at six feet plus in height, creating an almost tunnel effect for the road and obscuring my first view of Orange Township, less than a mile west of me.

Upon reaching the stop sign at Orange Road and Kimball Avenue, I was confronted with a view almost completely unchanged from when I last laid eyes upon it. There stood Orange Elementary School (photo to follow): originally built in 1915, it continued to serve students into the New Millennium. A complete k-12 school at one time, it was now only an elementary school.

With not a brick out of place.

A tour of the school (accompanied by a student counselor who was as interested in my reminisces, as I was in the here and now) revealed that not all was as before: now it only served as a k-5th grade facility. Certain rooms like the old library, were now referred to as a 'media room', and one room was filled with Apple-Mac PCs (the Computer Training Center). The third floor of the building was not in use (due to the presence of asbestos there, which unlike the first and second levels, had not been cleaned up in the 1980s). Yet despite some new doors and windows, as well as lockers where none had existed before, the facility and all of the rooms I remembered were not much different than when I attended there, in my 3rd-6th grade years, along with the first quarter of my 9th grade year (the last year that 9th-12 grades attended there).

Change had seemingly almost completely bypassed Orange Township; but change was in the wind, according to the counselor: within 5 years, almost all of the original three-story building would be demolished, and a new, modern elementary facility would be erected in its' place.

I guess 95 years was service enough.

I drove around Orange Township after leaving the school, and noticed that my original assessment held: almost no new houses had been added to the township. Almost every aspect of the township remained as I had remembered it, 34 years prior, other than the size of many of the trees. The Lutheran church that sat in the township had added onto the backside of the original building, but the frontage remained as I remembered it, when my old Boy Scout troop -- #13, and aptly designated in our case -- used it as a meeting place therein, and a recreation place on the lawn out front.

As I sat visually taking all in, I felt as if I had stepped through a time portal, and emerged 34 years ago. The only things that broke the sensation was the aforementioned size of the trees, and the face in the rear-view mirror.

I would revisit this area once more the next day, but for another reason. One I'll get to later.

Meantime, it was time enough now to drive to where my reserved hotel was. The location I knew well: the corner of old Highway 412 and La Porte Road, aka Hwy 218, also known through town as University Avenue.

Time and progress here more than made up for any illusions of a backward time warp in Orange Township: Highway 412 was 412 no more; it was now San Marnan Drive. And utterly, thoroughly bordered by seemingly endless commercial build-up: restaurants, car dealerships, strip malls, a huge auto finance center, and the anchor Crossroads Mall. Only Crossroads Mall had been here before I moved away in '71.

In the midst of all of this ruralness gone suburban commercial, I spotted the hotel. Just beyond it, I-380 loomed large and horizon-blocking, another change on the atmosphere of my memories. No less than US 20 was, a four lane highway that was but a drawing board project 34 years before. Now it lurked to the south, cutting through what had been the horse pasture of our old first farm.

Where another shock would await me in Part IV: The Land That Time (Almost) Forgot...And Not.


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10 September, 2005 17:05  
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31 October, 2005 20:42  
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07 November, 2005 17:47  

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