“I take an out of the way drive in and around the north side of town where the smoke from hell’s exhaust pipe lingers above the cheap rent in the dark night.”
These are the words that still ring in my soul from my time in Marshalltown, Iowa. 25 years later,
I still remember trainspotting with my Mom near old brick buildings with the smells of the local meat packing plant hanging in the air. The band, Modern Life is War, is still a pinnacle of my late night pacing through my house in the Suburbs of Northern Colorado 15 years later from when I found them as a teenager.
There’s a certain pride there, or at least an acknowledgement of my roots growing up in Iowa. When I was finally old enough to drive, I could bounce between towns of my childhood, whether split between the Iowa cornfields as a child, or the lake culture of Wisconsin as a teenager.
Jason Molina said it best…
“I fly the cross of a blue factory flame stitched with heavy sulfur thread.
They ain’t proud colors but they’re true colors of my home.”
Where are you from and what colors do you fly?
…Mine is the sand crane bellowing over the cornfields into the red sunset. There existed this simultaneous feeling of wanting to escape as a youth and a current pride in my roots as an adult. Now what truly exists is the dilemma between the learning and the unlearning of the values in my community I could see or grasp onto that affected my identities and relationships.
What did my community teach me about relationships?
A lot of folks speak about Midwestern Hospitality…but for whom and what did that look like? The lack of diversity was palpable where I grew up. We often look at gentrification of our cities, but what about our smaller communities?
Hospitality exists, yes, but don’t go to the “bad part of town.” Looking back I can see how the “bad parts” of town had faces that didn’t so closely resemble mine, or folks who had to work harder to make ends meet. Hospitality seemed to me looking back now to be kept a little too close to home.
In my twenties, I was challenged by different perspectives as I surrounded myself with people who were willing to challenge me on my privileges and unearned assets growing up in a predominantly white area.
I remember my first experience in graduate school that really challenged me. A black colleague of mine shared their experience of walking into a Fort Collins gas station and seeing a man with a shirt that had white power regalia on it. I remember what stood out to me most…looking into his eyes and seeing his exhaustion. I’m just so tired. In Wisconsin, there was the beauty of being in touch with the simple things. There was always an emphasis on community and local traditions. There really exists a palpable state pride.
Just ask any Brewers fans after the Cubs poached Counsell from the team. I felt this from the big city of Milwaukee to the supper clubs of Southern Wisconsin. I found myself desiring to be part of a community, or at least something bigger than myself.
What I spend my time with now is asking what elements of community I take with me and what I did not get to experience. I know now that I place a high value on differing cultural perspectives and diversity, which I didn’t get to experience as a young man to the degree I would have liked to looking back on my hometown experiences.
…I think the ultimate question you have to ask yourself is what parts of your hometown do you want to sew into your identity and what do you want your flag to look like at this juncture of your life?