Iowa to Wisconsin

April 24, 2018
Written at some awful KOA near Greensburg, PA in the rain* but concerning events from
April 10 – 12

I headed from Nebraska into western Iowa with the vague idea that I might do a little light genealogy on the way. After all, I reasoned, it’s on the way, and why not?

_MG_2160Well, this is why not: I’ve turned immediately into one of those old ladies who is really only interested in birding and genealogy. The change was sudden and before I knew it, I was gone and it was too late. Hence, I have been to the genealogy rooms in both the Creston, Iowa and the Stoughton, Wisconsin public libraries and the historical society in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. I have learned a lot. I might write a damn book one of these days but I have discovered another thing I suspected about myself: the minute I start writing about my family, I become completely tongue tied and blocked. One thing I like about my subconscious is how straight up unsubtle it is. Whoo, over two weeks now that I haven’t been able to write a thing: the Midwest and family history, they have brought me to a grinding halt.

And then there is the undeniable fact that this journey is ending soon – sooner every day, damn time – and that’s not helping either.

SO! I’m going to ignore my family history from now on and go back to light and breezy reporting of traveling – and not traveling, as the case might be.


I left Creston. I probably should have stayed: I wish now I had dug deeper into my great _MG_2213grandmother, Mabel Hilton’s background – hey huge surprise! Genealogy is heavily skewed towards the patriarchal! – but I didn’t. I was sufficiently creeped out by the campground that I pulled up my little camper legs and headed on eastward. Not, however, before I had gone out to breakfast. The cafe was a tiny hole in the wall that was recommended by Google (mental note: fix that) and it was, well, pretty much what you’d expect for a $6 breakfast in a small Iowa town if you are, like me, essentially pessimistic and cynical. Yes, we were right there in the middle of the farm belt, but rather than sampling any of that, nope: factory eggs, factory bread, frozen factory hashbrowns, tiny packages of mass produced jelly and, as I sat there, they were wheeling in boxes of frozen pies. The factory was probably in China. Gack. But it was all worth it because there was a lady sitting there who was Holding Forth on a variety of subjects. She remembered when they tore the old swimming pool out. Her sister was a lifeguard there in the 50s. She wanted to write for The Bold and The Beautiful because their stories just weren’t up to snuff. And, she said, she hadn’t had a Pepsi in many years. “But if I was going to die – I mean, I know I’m going to die! Everyone dies! – but if I knew WHEN I was going to die, I would drink a Pepsi every day.” she said. Wistfully, she added, “Wait, though, one time I was down to the races and I reached over for my drink? And I got his instead” – she nodded towards her smiling, silent husband – “and so I HAVE had some Pepsi in the last ten years. But that was all.”

I am a bit in awe as well as being sort of exasperated – just a Pepsi? Really? – but there you have it: A Lady in Creston, Iowa Who No Longer Drinks Pepsi.

I drove northeastward through Iowa, driven now by the genealogy bug. From about 1905 through to the 1940s, my great grandparents made this trip every summer. They left Creston Iowa and drove – drove? In 1905? Took a train? I have no idea how they did it. – and went to Lake Kegonsa, which is right outside Stoughton, Wisconsin, for the summer. Or, at least part of the summer. They brought with them first their three children, then their two children (poor little Edward died in the influenza epidemic of 1917) and then, starting in the 1930s, they brought their grandchildren: my mother and aunt.

I sort of retraced this journey. It’s a long one! 370 miles! I am completely boggled by what it must have been like in the 1930s. Granted, the roads were probably better – well, they were probably dirt, which, frankly, rather more of them than you might expect still are – but I have done long road trips with variously sized children. I would probably not have survived without books on CD and turnpike rest areas.

_MG_2197I made two stops on my own journey from Creston to Stoughton. I stopped first at a small rural park – I really like the way there are RV parks in almost all the city and county parks throughout the midwest, it’s very nice of them and they’re usually extremely clean and cheap as can be. This one was great, on a lake full of geese who talked all night. I find the way geese talk all the time endearing. If they were people it would drive me crazy, but as geese I like it. They basically never shut up. I think it is an endless flood of, “nice weather today but did you hear what she said to me when I flew up towards her place I can’t even believe it she was raised better than that hey last week when I met that fish he said that. . . “ and on and on without a break for air. The bathrooms at this nice park, however, like the ones in Creston, were closed and the water shut off. You know, just going to go out on a limb here and say FOR FUCK’S SAKE THE SHOWERS ARE IN A BUILDING AND I HAVE PERSONALLY ENCOUNTERED MANY A BUILDING THAT MANAGED TO HAVE RUNNING WATER THROUGH THE WINTER MONTHS EVEN IF THE TEMPERATURES WERE BELOW FREEZING. But, okay: no water. No dump station either. And when I went to leave the Garmin tried to make me take a literally nonexistent road through a field and sulked when I inexplicably refused.

The six days without a shower that I was rocking at that point is why my second stop on the_MG_2189 Iowa to Wisconsin run was at Camp Skip-A-Way. It is in Clermont, Iowa and just kind of adorable: it is a RESORT, see, with a tiny mini golf course and two big concrete pelicans and a giant frog and a restaurant and a bar and, oh man, a lot of other stuff I failed to see. I am always impressed by these improbable places. Clermont, Iowa! The lady who runs it is very friendly and energetic, probably a little older than me and has a pierced nose. Iowa had gotten to me enough at that point where I was like, pierced nose! You are of my people!

And their showers worked. Now, none of their other water did, which is why I ended up hauling jugs of water from the bathroom to fill up my water tank. * I was not alone. There was a young family, mom, dad, two kids, also hauling water. They lived there and had no running water, I suppose. This is not so good, you know, America, and I do not like that I keep seeing it at RV Park after RV Park. And it’s not impossible, Iowa, to insulate a water pipe, I swear it is not. But, regardless of the 21st century realities (welcome to the 21st century! Much like the 19th!) the shower was INCREDIBLE. If I have learned nothing else on this journey it is that if you want to weep with joy at a shower, wait five or six days between them. You will weep. And it will be joyful. Hot running water is a fucking amazing thing, y’all and I no longer take it for granted!


* I know! I am horribly behind! I am not apologizing (never apologize for falling behind on your blog, they say) it’s just that things (well, mainly just my own head) have gotten heavy and I am doing my best to float on but that task does appear to be taking up most of my time these days. Soon, though, I will be home in Asheville and then. . then. . I have no idea. We shall see! 

** RV Pro Tip! Buy a funnel with a long tube thing at one end from an auto parts store. It makes filling up your water tank from gallon jugs vastly more enjoyable! Which is not a very high bar but hey, still! It is something!

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