Beat the Cougars! the poster-sized sign read as it clung proudly to the front of the supply store on Main Street. I was heading to my first high school football game and it was homecoming no less. John and I spent ten days back in his hometown in Eastern Iowa and although we mainly worked and spent time with family, it was a perfect vacation. I pulled my sleeves over my hands and sipped $0.50 hot chocolate while the marching band performed a Beatles medley under the Friday night lights at half time. The first frost of the season crept closer.
During our visit we drove the pale limestone-coloured highway to Iowa City and back a few times. The first to catch an Iowa Hawkeyes game at Kinnick Stadium and the second to visit with John’s co-workers at his old radio station. We rolled down the windows and instead of the evergreen-filtered, salty sea-air of the West Coast our noses tickled with the scent of grass and mineral-filled earth (and occasionally the less pleasant aromas of dairy farms along the route).
Garrison Keillor spoke words of inspiration on the AM radio like a true Prairie Home Companion as we wound our way over hilltops and between a quilted pattern of corn fields. I got my usual kick of out of the American Gothic sign when you enter or exit Jones County, which is indeed Grant Wood country.
Our last full day in the Hawkeye state was spent at the Pumpkin Festival. We admired gourds as long as Cadillacs and watermelons the size of hogs. The real jaw-droppers were the 1,000-1,400lb pumpkins on parade.
Community organizations, school bands, and local businesses marched along with the compulsory convoy of classic John Deere tractors.
We waved to the Pumpkin Prince and Princess, children chased down candy that was being lofted from the floats, and I wolfed down my first festival funnel cake. Ten days were up too soon.
Within 24 hours we were rolling across the Granville Street bridge, flanked by familiar neon as the lights on Cypress Mountain sparkled in the twilight. The pavement smelled like rain even though a drop had yet to fall from the plump grey clouds above. No matter how bittersweet, there’s always comfort in coming home – wherever that might be.