and now from Des Moines

It is cold here. A light snow is expected tonight. When we got here I found our motel and without checking in, we went on an adventure. Lynnie and I were here in 1997. When my sister Patty and I were kids, (I was 7,8,9) our Dad was in seminary at Drake Divinity School in Des Moines. Our family lived in the village of St, Charles about half an hour south. It is in Madison County and about 20 minutes from Winterset, the county seat, and the birthplace of John Wayne. So Tofu and I went to St. Charles to see how it is doing 21 years after I last saw it. And now I present to you St. Charles:

The movie, The Bridges of Madison County, brought a lot of tourists looking for the bridges. So now there are Scenic tour signs along the roads pointing to the bridges. This is the only one, I photographed; kind of a pathetic, unkempt small bridge as you come into town. Then there’s the Welcome Ceenter, in what used to be the Presbyterian Curch.

Inside are stacks of junk, crafts antiques, and a lone welcome woman. Found her hiding behind a small desk. On it are copies of the movie for sale. Of course, I told her my story. She could not have cared less. Her family lived here for a couple years. But her family never went to any of the churches. She really didn’t seem to know anything about the town. So I took a few pictures of Main Street. It’s pretty dilapidated.

My first exposure to dentistry was in one of these storefronts. The dentist was next to the drugstore. The dentist’s chair, was like a barber chair, and sat right by the window.

Two views of a place that used to be a small store with candy in it, a block from the school and the church. One day as I came out of the store and turned right, an older man, got out of his parked car and asked me if I wanted some candy. Of course I did as I had just been in the store contemplating stealing some. Though tempted, I had not tried to steal candy. I did not accept the candy offered to me as my parents had warned me about taking candy from strangers. There’s two “Good Boy’s for me in this story.

So a block away is an empty lot where the Church of Christ, used to stand. There’s also an empty lot where an old man lived. On Sunday mornings he would sit on his front porch, chewing and listening to the Lone Ranger. We wanted to hang out with him, but I don’t think our parents were approving.

Just across the street and to the right is St. Charles Elementary School, where I attended the 2nd, 3rd, 4th grades. A lot more concrete has been poured for parking, so the lawns are much smaller.

Notice the blown out windows? I don’t think it’s an active school now.

The van is I I I in front of the new wing. When I was a boy I didn’t know the gym was new. The van is pointing toward the empty lot that used to be the church. Tofu and I took a very cold (33) walk up the street to see if the parsonage still stands. We walked two long blocks past some charming houses. Here’s one for sale!

Turn right from West Market to North Walnut. What a hoot! The whole village couldn’t be more than 6 by 6 blocks. Our parsonage is still here. He front covered porch was removed , and the wing has been extended, new windows, but the object is left incomplete and that becomes more obvious as I look at it.

My bedroom was upstairs where the 2 cables are. There was a vent in the middle of the floor. I could put my ear to it and hear the living room conversation, but the living room was not near as large as it is now.

The road in front of the house is virtually unchanged, a gravel lane. Ours was the last house on North Walnut. The road in front of me is when my parents had a large garden and more lawn. We were surrounded by empty lawn, that has now become a subdivision and a park.

Now I turn 180 degrees and take a photo of the Methodist parsonage. My best friend, David, lived in that house. His Dad was in school with my Dad. I thought they were rich, as they had a much nicer place.

It doesn’t look so prosperous now. I turn back around and walk two doors down North Walnut and across the street from our house. This is where I took Piano lessons. She was a nice old lady. We had a recital for her students, and I messed up my piece. I kept trying to start over, until she insisted I play on through.

So what happened to our church? When we lived there the Methodist’s and us held church together regularly. Take note of the Methodist Church.

Oh and I almost forgot something important. Across the street from the elementary school was Pioneer Park. In my child eyes, it was a beautiful space. Every year the town celebrated Pioneer Days in the Park. On our church lawn our people made buckets and buckets of homemade ice cream, which was a big fundraiser. In the Park were carnival rides. It was there I had my first ride on a Ferris wheel. I also remember one of those spinning rides, where the people stuck to the walls of a spinning cylinder. Of course there was a carousel. Look what terrible things happened to the park. The Lions built a clubhouse where the carnival rides took place.

On the back of the clubhouse they pored a bunch of concrete, and created a permanent food booth. Meanwhile someone decided to pour more concrete and create a permanent tented space Nader which large groups could eat. And then someone decided there should be a permanent covered podium or expel to make speeches. Alas the beautiful park of my childhood no longer exists. I wonder if pioneer Days still exist?

Well we can’t stop with this downer. Next I drove o Winterset. The town has real pride in their John Wayne museum. Every year some of John Wayne’s family come to a fundraiser for the community. I’ve seen John Wayne’s birthplace before, so I didn’t pay homage is time. My parents brought me to the doctor once in this town. After sitting on the floor watching tv I would have trouble walking. My parents were concerned. The Doc asked if when I watched tv, did I sit on my feet. “Yes”. “Well then, don’t do that.”

So here’s what you need to see in the county seat of Madison County.

It sits in the middle of the town square. The sides you don’t see are symmetrical to these.

I’m not feeling any pain right now. It’s been 4 hours since I took IBU. I may be stopping somewhere in Nebraska. After having Cheerios for dinner, I’ll figure out a reasonable distance on the journey home. Good night. Remember to drink plenty of water. Love.

7 thoughts on “and now from Des Moines

  1. If you go through Lincoln, Andy’s kids live there, and Andy is in Daykin, which is a wide spot in the road between Lincoln and Omaha. Let me know if you’d like phone numbers.

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  2. Andys phone is 402-446-7344. He works odd hours and days, but wouldn’t it be fun if you 2 could get together on this trip! It sounds like maybe a familiar face might make this leg of the trip! Fingers crossed you are feeling well again soon.

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    1. Well I stopped at the Seward off ramp and called Andy. Got voicemail. Left him an unintelligible message. Didn’t think to give him my phone number. I’m going to call him again, just cuz I think it would be fun to get reconnected (though we never were very connected).

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  3. I love these pictures and stories because they bring up some great old memories of days in St. Charles. Did you go out to see the McKinney’s Farm? The old house doesn’t look too different except for the living room extension and absence of front porch. I remember bashing you over the head with a box on that front porch. Remember the old outhouse and shop/garage and water pump in the back yard? Were any of those things there? Probably not the outhouse. I remember sitting in the outhouse waiting for someone to rescue me when I ran not away from home but TO home one day after school. You wound up rescuing me on your bike – having come from the McKinney’s farm where I was supposed to be. I rode on the handlebars back to the farm. Lots of memories of this place!

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    1. I didn’t go out to McKinney’s. 21 years since I was last here. Quite a few changes on the periphery; not for the better. The box incident took place at our house on the front porch. When I yelled they came running around the side of the house. I got in trouble for scaring them. I never spoke aloud again… might be an exaggeration.

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