E. H. . . .

The relationship between the folks and E. H.’s parents  went back many years.  The origin, I have no idea, but early in their lives, they became fast friends and remained so until their deaths. The fathers dying first, then Mom, and the E. H.’s mother.

People in small communities never venture too far in any one direction.  The art and skill of creating lasting friendships are attributes of most who remain in rural areas, both I wish I had developed, even though I love the culture and the anonymity of living in a large city. Most of the time, the opinions of others were tolerated, if they were said at all.  Of my mother’s nine brothers and sisters, only one left southwestern Iowa, moved to Washington State and operated a fruit farm; of my father’s five brothers and sisters, one married locally but soon after she and her husband moved to California.

During the 30s and 40s,  if no work could be found, some men, like my father and my uncles, hired themselves out to ranchers and farmers, harvesting wheat throughout the upper Midwest, down as far as Kansas, west to Montana and up into Canada.  They rode the rails, hitched if they could, and walked long stretches of road when no one would give them a lift. Two of my mother’s brothers met North Dakota women while working in this state where I now live and brought the women back as brides to Iowa.

My older sister, eleven years older than I, remembers as a child being in the backseat of a car with me as a baby and the E. H.’s parents’ three children; her future husband, one of them.  All had driven to Corley, Iowa, to visit my dad’s sister and her husband, Goldie and George.

E. H.’s parents were always present in our lives.  Sometimes they might not see each other for a month or so, but whenever they could, lots of catching up and companionship.  E. H.’s mother chattered, and not really about insignificant things; when E. H.’s parents were around, Mom became livelier. Dad and E. H.’s father visited, not sure what about, but both seemed to enjoy the topics of conversation.  The folks went to dances with them all over the region, played endless games of double-deck pinochle late into the night, drank Budweiser and sometimes harder stuff at each other’s place.  If E. H.’s parents happen to drive in when others were visiting, they were welcomed.

The giving wasn’t always on one side, as so often happened to Mom when she cooked meals for anyone who stopped by, and then before the company left, gave them not only leftovers but sometimes garden vegetables, canned goods and meat.  E. H.’s parents reciprocated equally with my folks. It’s not that they were poor as were the folks; they  had some extra that they put aside for investments and apparently they invested wisely.

Until they retired and moved to Harlen, E. H.’s parents ran a grocery store in a nearby small town; the father was also the postmaster for that small community. In and around other towns dotted the landscape a few miles from each other as still are most small towns throughout Iowa.  Denison, some 14 miles from Manilla; Irwin, a seven mile jog from Manilla; Kirkman a little over seven south of Irwin; Harlen, 17 miles south of Kirkman, but to drive there one can either pass through Red Line or drive down Hwy. 59 and wave at Earling and Westphalia in the distance. Whenever I would go home or Mom and I visited on the phone, she would always insert some tidbit of news about this family and that one–who’s been sick, deaths, so-and-so’s son or daughter’s marriage.  Now I recognize only a few names.  It’s not that those with the traditional family names have all moved away; it’s that I’ve forgotten.

E. H.’s parents’ grocery store was like similar stores in very small towns, a few shelves with staples, sundry items, uneven pine floors. In my home town of Manilla, Tiny’s Grocery recently closed their doors.  Bruggeman’s, a five-and-dime store, left a long time ago.  There’s no Olson Produce, no place to eat, except what a bar can fix, frozen food microwaved most of the time.

After school at E.H.’s parents grocery store, kids would stop and purchase candy, some of which were single items in glass containers.  In the back of the store there was a living space.  There the folks and E. H.’s parents played a few games of pinochle if there was a lull in the business, which there often was.

The post office was on the east wall across from the grocery counter with its cash register that pinged loudly whenever someone purchased something. The office was a separate structure built of oak set out from the wall, somewhat in the center of the store.  The door was on the left; and in the wall facing the grocery counter, there was an opening through which E. H.’s father would hand mail to a customer or take a package.  That opening contained metal bars, and it was shuttered up and the structure locked at night.  We kids could never mess with anything in the post office or in the store.

E. H.’s parents lived in a nice home within walking distance in that small town.  I remember marveling how pretty and spacious it was, such a contrast to our own: knick-knacks, doilies, a dining table without oil cloth, built-in bookcases between pillars, even open stairs to rooms upstairs.  For most of my memories of the store and of their home, my older sister was not around.  She was either in high school or had left to work in Washington, D.C., or she had moved with with her husband to wherever he was stationed.

E. H. during all these years did what most other young people did.  As he matured, he developed close relationships.  Dad and Mom could visit with E. H., understand in part his individualistic sign language.  I never could, but I’m sure my older brother and sister can understand what he’s saying most of the time. As a family, who is not related to him, is now helping E. H. during his final months, and they have been over the years. Others looked out for him, finding him work when they could.

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