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Sunday, May 1, 2016

Gray Matters: You Can Go Home Again

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

I would like to contradict famed author Thomas Wolfe's claim that "You Can't Go Home Again," for there are several area natives who can, and do, as often as possible. Fortunately for us, one of them, Julia Meylor Simpson from Rhode Island makes her living as a writer. She is a published poet and

former creative writing and English teacher, who now works in corporate communications. When I asked her about "coming home," I received the following delightful reply which I am pleased to share with all of you.

First (says Julia) , I'll tell you my favorite Iowa story.

I was 22, newly married, and the most recent hire at The Gloucester County Times, a daily newspaper in Woodbury, New Jersey. My journalism degree from Iowa State was just a smidgeon older than my marriage certificate in the summer of 1979.

The paper's managing editor hired me in an interview over the phone as the food editor. The assumption was (I figured) that a female journalist from Iowa would be a natural at writing about recipes and food. Desperate to get any newspaper job, I signed on without mentioning that my definition of a gourmet meal was tater tot casserole and a lime Jell-O mold.

From the beginning I was eager to knock down every stereotype about my home state that these East Coast types could throw at me. My defensive antennae went up whenever I heard even slightly disparaging comments about the Midwest.

One day the senior political reporter introduced himself. "So you're from I-oh-way," he said. "I learned three things about guys from I-oh-way back in the service."

He held up three fingers and clicked off his "facts." "They all join the Navy they all like popcorn and they're all really nice."

I choked -- I had no rebuttal. Then I laughed as my antennae drooped to the floor, and I fed right into his "facts" about Iowans and my own family stories.

My Dad -- Jerry Meylor -- was born and raised in Marcus and drafted into the Navy while still in high school during World War II.

No doubt, he loved popcorn -- my whole family had feasted on huge buttered pans of Jolly Time every weekend for as long as I could remember.

And, well, what can I say? My Dad IS a really nice guy, as are my three brothers.

That story still makes me laugh three decades and a move to Rhode Island later. It also continues to sing with all that is Iowa for me.

Coming back to Marcus every summer has become a personal tradition. It is here that I reconnect with the only people on earth who still know me as "one of the Meylor girls," where seeing my name on a library card from years ago is a sweet surprise, where the mouthy, funny boy I once "babysat" now serves on the school board, and where the sky touches the earth without all those darn trees getting in the way.

I'd like to end this essay with a memory poem about walking beans. It was first published in Plainsongs, (Hastings College, Hastings, NE, 2006). I know farm kids don't have to walk beans anymore, so I hope they're making use of barns, gravel roads, creeks and windbreaks as special places to dream.

Walking Beans, 1968

Farm kids walked half-mile aisles of soybeans.

Velvet leaves wavered in sultry July breezes.

One side dark green, one side light green.

Trained eyes scrutinized four rows for subtle

shades that marked wayward growth.

Armed with sharp hooks, they carved out

rabble with a stab and slice and left it to die:

thistles, cockleburs, pigweed, mustard. Up

the rows and back, hurrying to finish first,

to sit down, share ice water, begin again.

Few words between brothers or sisters:

sharp commands, some complaints. Plowed

dirt clods crumbled under grimy shoes

as tedium turned up aching muscles, sunburn.

But it was here, far from beginning or end,

that imagination took deep breaths of green

air. While plodding up rows, minds meandered

down forest paths filled with odd characters

who lived worlds apart from rooted order.

A bean field was a magical place for farm kids

who sold their souls for stories that grew

wild as weeds and carried them to far lands,

past wire fences, gravel roads, endless July days.

At the field's far end, they counted out four rows

and began again.