Iowa trip like a visit to the Old Country

Iowa trip like a visit to the Old Country By Bob Karolevitz Phyllis likes to travel to far-away places � and I'd go with her to Australia just as soon as they build the bridge from Los Angeles.

However, in lieu of a trip Down Under, we took a three-day jaunt into Iowa, and we're here to recommend it to anybody.

It started at the Amana colonies east of Des Moines where we overdosed on German food at the Ox Yoke Inn. We had been to the seven villages before, so we didn't do the touristy things like visiting the wineries, candleworks, the furniture shop and the broom factory.

At West Branch we toured the birthplace, burial grounds and the extensive library-museum of the much misunderstood President Herbert Hoover. He was born in a dinky two-room house � still standing � which is not much bigger than our kitchen. We could have spent hours at the National Historic Site, but we had other things to see.

After a brief side trip to picturesque Mount Vernon and Cornell College (where years ago I played a little basketball when the South Dakota Jackrabbits were there), we went on to Anamosa. The lure there was the late Grant Wood, painter of the famous American Gothic; you know, the sober-faced farmer and his wife with pitchfork. We found his grave in the Riverside Cemetery. Since Wood's death in 1942, he has become increasingly more renowned as an artist with the distinct style which has made him internationally famous.

The small town also boasts the castle-like Anamosa State Penitentiary built by prisoners in the 1870s of stone quarried nearby. It was a bonus stop for us, as were the antique stores on Main Street where we were appalled by the lofty prices on things I have thrown away.

As it turned out, we spent so much time moseying around that we learned to our dismay that the only motel in town was full. We then hurried up the road to Monticello where we were also too late for a room. We had to drive all the way to Dubuque before we found a place to rest our weary heads � but that's another story.

Our primary goal was really the Amish Country around the town of Kalona in Washington County, reputedly the largest Amish-Mennonite settlement west of the Mississippi, dating all the way back to 1846.

Believers in a literal translation of the Bible, the Amish oppose most things worldly, living without electricity, telephones, television and other conveniences which the rest of us take for granted. Staunch pacifists, they refuse any form of government aid or benefits and never buy life or property insurance, for to do so would show a lack of faith in God.

We marveled (and carefully drove around) all the horse-drawn buggies and wagons in the area. We bought curds at the cheese factory and homemade bread and snickerdoodle cookies at the country store. It was an interesting experience, and we thought we had seen it all until we were on our way home.

As we drove into Hazelton, a small town off the beaten track in Buchanan County, we noticed Amish banners on the Main Street light posts. Stopping at still one more antique shop, we discovered that there was another settlement of Old Order Amish nearby, more concentrated that the Kalona clan and not mentioned in our Three A book.

We changed our schedule then and went out on the unpaved roads to see all the farms without power lines. All had big gardens, and Phyllis was especially taken by the giant draft horses in each adjoining pasture. On one of the farms, they were hand-picking corn the old-fashioned way, with horses pulling the wagon with its bangboard ricocheting the ears being thrown by the pickers.

The biggest treat, though, was the country store where we bought candy, a blackberry pie and gift items from the bearded merchant who, we learned, had 108 grandchildren. We visited with him, his 45-year-old son and daughter-in-law, who already had 12 children, and she was pregnant again.

To us, they spoke in unaccented English. Among themselves they talked in German. It was � as Phyllis and I reminisced on our non-Interstate drive back to South Dakota � like a visit to the Old Country in earlier times.

Our Iowa odyssey was most enjoyable, to say the least.

© 1999 Robert F. Karolevitz

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