Day 39 – Nostalgia in Iowa

We awoke to gray skies and cooler temps that remained throughout the day. There were many attractions on our list today and we could hardly prioritize how we wanted to see them. But, what made it to the first spot on the day’s activities was the site of the church in Omaha where my driver was baptized when he was only two weeks old. When we were in Kentucky I had called ahead just to make sure someone would be on site who would allow us to enter the church.

We drove into the old Omaha neighborhood and easily found the impressive stone structure that is Sacred Heart Parish Church. The woman I had spoken with on the phone answered the office door and kindly looked up the baptismal information we were seeking. She brought out the old musty, over-sized book and showed us the line where my driver’s information had been recorded. I couldn’t help myself and had to take a picture.

Then the parish DRE (Director of Religious Education) kindly took us over to the church and allowed us to see the newly renovated space and take some pictures. For me, no matter what church we are visiting or whose relatives were once members, there is always a deep sense of the Communion of Saints and all the souls who have gone before us marked with the sign of our faith. I can’t help it; I’ve always loved the concept of the Communion of Saints – living and dead – who make up the Body of Christ. A parish church is one place where this feeling is prominent, but certainly not the only place.

From the church we went down the street about three blocks where the house once stood that my driver first lived in with his mother and grandmother, aunt, uncle, and cousins. The original house no longer stands on the property, there is a new one in it’s place . . . but the place remains the same. We have a picture of his father standing proudly by his car in that same street shortly after WWII; maybe 1949 or 50. So, I took a picture of my driver standing proudly by his hybrid car in 2017 – in the very same spot where his father had stood. The emotions that surface are both deeply sad and strangely comforting. The father that he never knew was right here where we are now – separated only by¬† the passage of seven decades.

Along the way to our next stop we drove past the site where Malcom X was born. Then found a Best Buy where we could purchase a new cord for my driver’s cousin’s Play Station. That was easily accomplished, so we next drove through a Starbucks to supply my driver and his cousin with coffee for their mid-morning pick-me-up. Since cousin PS’s recent move to an assisted living facility, he has had little chance to get out or get things fixed that would make his entertainment system easily functional for him. We were happy to help.

We visited and told stories until the day prompted us to move along. We wanted to see some cemeteries before it got dark. Driving away from the facility we saw a Godfather’s Pizza. Both of us were surprised to see a Godfather’s Pizza still open and functioning. Years ago we used to frequent Godfather’s and loved their pizza. There are no longer any stores in our part of the world. Just for “old time’s sake” we pulled in and had a tiny pizza and a salad bar. Our tastes have changed over the years and we no longer prefer that style of pizza, but it was a wonderful “blast from the past” to taste and re-live the experience of a pipping hot and cheesy Godfather’s pizza.

With full bellies we skirted up the freeway into Iowa and found the Dunlap cemetery where some relation of my Underhill ancestors are buried. It was a huge cemetery and at first we had difficulty determining HOW we would go about even looking. Then, we realized there was a map and each section was clearly marked – which made finding graves so much easier! As we walked the grounds the daylight softened and a tiny strip of pink was visible in the Western sky – the first sign of sunshine all day. It glowed over the corn fields and made the landscape beautiful.

The next cemetery was St. Joseph’s Cemetery in Earling where my driver’s Langenfeld ancestors are buried. There was very little remaining light in the day, but the tiny strip of orange still illuminated the horizon. We found the grave sites and took pictures before jumping back in the car to warm up for the next part of our adventures.

An Iowa delicacy from my driver’s youth that remains a personal favorite is Denison mustard. We can never visit Iowa without bringing home at least a case. He had called ahead to make sure the Hy Vee store would have enough to satisfy him and they were happy to arrange to have the amount he would like. So, we had to go to Harlan to the Hy Vee to pick up our order of two cases of Denison Mustard. I’m not a mustard fan, but each of our kids has also developed a liking for this particular mustard – so we could not go home without it.

For me, Hy Vee brings back memories of Iowa State University and studying late into the night with a package of Hy Vee potato chips and a diet Pepsi. I don’t eat either much any more, but I must confess, I did buy a bag of Hy Vee potato chips to go with our mustard. And, they still remain the winner of the best tasting potato chip around. You may not believe it, but if you’ve never had a Hy Vee potato chip, you can’t possibly know.

We drove back to the motel in darkness discussing all the nostalgic events of the day. We both have so many, many memories of our days in Iowa. It is where we met; where we were married; where we held our first jobs; and where we happily left, only to visit now from time to time. It’s good to remember and to experience the grace of such a nostalgic place.