We all have songs/smells/pictures/trinkets from our past that remind us of something significant. It might bring a smile to your face, make you laugh outright or well up with tears in your eyes and your throat feels so tight you can’t swallow or talk for a minute. Memories from ‘way back.’ These memories are important and sometimes easier to recall than what you ate for lunch yesterday.
The more I age there’s less about my life that’s focused on my hometown. I haven’t called Rock Valley (or even Iowa) my home for a very long time. That bothers me. I never imagined living outside of my native state, yet in one year I will have lived in Michigan as long as I lived in Iowa. Hurts my heart.
But why? Certainly isn’t climate. Michigan’s is similar to Iowa’s and I don’t care for either. Not a big family pull anymore, all of our immediate family are within an hour of us. Gotta believe it’s those ‘reminders’ I’m getting which are often triggered and makes me homesick for my little One-stoplight town (which is no longer little and now boasts 4 traffic lights. How is that even possible?)
I get my hometown fix when I blog about Rock Valley or growing up there. It starts with a memory I write about, but it’s the comment threads afterwards that get my juices flowing. Someone will mention a place, event or mundane chunk from everyday life and it’s off to the races. One comment leads to another and suddenly I’m homesick. Most memories involving the 2 planets that revolved around my small universe, school and church. (BB-before boys) All common denominators if you grew up in Rock Valley during the 50’s and 60’s.
Dad moved to Michigan 6 months after mom passed away in 2004 when he was 88. To help keep him in touch, we subscribed to the weekly paper, the Rock Valley Bee. The Bee came to my house, then I’d bring it to dad’s apartment. Some weeks he’d talk about the articles (mostly obituaries) for days, staying connected. He’d reminisce about the person, recalling times they went to the Sioux City Gospel mission together or preaching (Dad was a devoted lay minister) at a South Dakota prison with a group from church.
Before mom died, there had been no need for Rock Valley’s newspaper. Mom was the talking paper! In our phone conversations every few days, she’d let me know what was going on in school, who had died, sometimes even the meat specials at Van’s or Koster’s Market. After dad passed away in 2008, I realized I needed to keep getting the Bee or lose more reminders of my hometown.
When I was a kid we lived 2 blocks from school so I didn’t eat hot lunch everyday. If mom had a day off or when she came home from work during lunch, I usually did too. Tuna salad or leftover homemade soup from last night’s supper were our mainstays. I ate lunch at school whenever they offered cinnamon rolls. I think cinnamon rolls were always coupled with chili, (not my favorite but it didn’t matter because there were cinnamon rolls)! My other favorite hot lunch was turkey dinner feast. But for the most part I ate lunch at home.
The small town of Rock Valley had some of their own quirks. It was a mostly Dutch community so Dutch slang was rampant. (We didn’t realize it at the time, it was just the way we talked). Once some of us moved away from northwest Iowa and folks in other parts of Iowa asked, “what the heck is a ploujes?” (Plu-shee, a piece of lint or fuzzy from a sock on the floor or your clothes. Hut-fa-duttie-means oh-my-goodness).
Imagine my surprise when perusing the Bee a dozen years ago when I spotted the weekly menus from our local schools. Pretty sure I cried. I don’t know if this started as a Dutch thing or a northwest Iowa custom but people from Davenport had never heard of a Tavern. (Their definition was a bar or pub). A Tavern is NOT a sloppy joe or a loose meat so don’t confuse them. Taverns probably started as a way to stretch hamburger for a growing family. I still make them for supper, especially if I have a bowl of potato salad in the fridge. Browned ground beef and onion, drained, add a titch of brown sugar and squirt of yellow mustard, plus enough Heinz ketchup to kinda hold it together, served on a hamburger bun. I couldn’t believe Taverns are still a staple for lunch in school.
Cream chicken was another meal made at home and served at school. Diced or shredded chicken mixed with a white sauce (I’ve never mastered white sauce-guess I’m ‘chicken’ and afraid of failure, so I cheat and use Cream of Chicken soup with a bit of chicken broth, salt & pepper). Served hot on buns, it was always featured at-wait for it-Church Soup Suppers.
Soup Suppers were immensely popular when I was a kid. An event for raising money for different ladies’ aid groups from our church. My mom contributed numerous pots of soup for the cause back in the day. I believe the ladies all used the same basic recipe for each variety served. Mom used rice in Chicken soup and Vegetable Beef, but I prefer barley (sorry mom). The other two choices were Chili and Pea Soup. Pea soup seems like an unusual choice-maybe it was a Dutch thing). I know whenever mom made Pea Soup she’d soak the peas overnight in a big white enamel (chipped) pot of melted snow she’d collected from the backyard. And she never, ever used split peas, always whole dried peas. She added a ham bone (with plenty of ham still attached) or several pork hocks. Diced an onion early on and for the last 20-30 minutes, a couple of diced potatoes, sometimes adding tiny diced carrots for color.
But church soup suppers were more than money makers for the women’s mission project. They never a set price for the meal but suggested a free will offering. (God gave us free will for everything, even soup suppers). It was a social event held midweek and most of the congregation showed up since it lasted 2-3 hours, even the farmers could come after chores. So you had your choice of at least 4 soups with a Cream Chicken bun or Tavern, and lots of choices for dessert including homemade pies (we had some amazing cooks)! While I was eating at a table with my friends, you’d hear laughter coming from the ladies working in the kitchen. This wasn’t a somber affair like serving lunch after a funeral. These ladies were having a good time and you witnessed how much they enjoyed each other’s company.
The last soup supper I went to at First Reformed Church in Rock Valley was during the late 1960’s. Imagine my surprise when I opened my last Rock Valley Bee. First Reformed is still holding Soup Suppers. Same 4 soup choices, same 2 accompanying sandwiches, still boasting homemade pies and your free will offering of paying a buck or $10. for the meal God has blessed for you. Does my heart good. Sometimes it’s the little things that produce the best memories…