Something’s missing when you live in a large city

Don't get me wrong. I thoroughly enjoy living in the Des Moines area. It has been our home for the past 25 years after moving here from Fort Dodge.We appreciate the convenience of what the metro has to offer: being within 30 minutes of the I-Cubs at Principal Park, games at Wells Fargo Arena, the Sculpture Garden, downtown activities, walking trails, fabulous restaurants, and a myriad of other opportunities that larger cities have to offer.But once in a while it occurs to me that something is missing. Something really important is missing.One of those somethings happened a few weeks ago when I was filling up my car at a Casey's General Store in the suburb of Urbandale. It's on the northwest edge of the Des Moines metro area about two miles south of our Johnston townhome. There was nothing atypical about the gas station visit, with cars and trucks whizzing by to my back on 86th Street, and to my left on Interstate 35/80. As usual there were many vehicles at the pumps, several with out-of-state license plates.And that's when it happened. Or didn't happen to be more precise.And I almost missed it. It was like white noise.Somewhere deep in my thoughts I noticed that sirens blared behind me and I never so much as looked up or turned around. It might have been an ambulance, or a police car, or a fire truck. But that's the point. I don't know because I have become so accustomed to noise, sirens, big planes flying over, and heavy traffic that I did not look up.And it both surprised and saddened me that I had somehow become oblivious to my surroundings.Fortunately, it was not a wasted moment. For the next few hours it caused me to reflect on my upbringing in Lawler, Iowa in the 1950s.Not only would I have noticed the sirens, my buddies and I would have followed a fire truck to its destination. I recalled the night about 11 o'clock when I was returning from a date with my now wife of 50 years and saw my friend Greg Timlin who was returning from a date with his now wife of 50 years in downtown Lawler.The town fire truck was heading east out of town and he hollered, "Jump in. Let's see where it's going," only to discover 15 minutes later that it was going to a bank in Waucoma about 10 miles away. A bank where I had turned the key to go home at four o'clock that afternoon as one of it's two employees. A bank owned by his grandfather, Vince Kelly.I thought of the church bell at Mt. Carmel Catholic Church in Lawler that rang every noon hour to remind us to quit playing ball and head home for lunch.Or when it rang in the middle of the morning or afternoon signifying that a parishioner had died, and tolling once for each year of his or her life.Memories of driving with hand signals and straight stick (manual) transmissions. And pumping gas at my Uncle Chet's Phillips 66, and later D-X, gas stations, but as an employee rather than customer.Of walking into the local post office, cafe, tavern, variety store, or barber shop (when I still had need of a barber shop). The stops were seldom brief because there would be a friend, neighbor or family member at each place who had a story to share.Of little league games in tee-shirts, blue jeans and tennis shoes. Of knowing the name of everyone's pet dog. Of knowing the town cop who never wore a gun and who drove a city pickup instead of police car.It has been over 50 years since I've lived in Lawler. But any reader who's had the privilege of growing up in small town Iowa before moving to a big city will most likely understand how I felt that summer afternoon in Urbandale.Every once in a while something is missing. Really missing.

New Hampton Tribune

10 North Chestnut Ave
New Hampton, IA 50659
Phone: (641) 394-2111

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