September 3rd, 2001


Offensive, or Amusing?

Podunksville, Iowa

Podunksville, Iowa, is a dinky town strategically located between Begin and Resume Speed limit signs way down on Highway 2. It is so tiny that it may NOT appear on the map. Readers will just have to take its existence on faith, like so many other absurdities in the Bible Belt.

The census takers say that the population is 15, but, personally, I think it took creative accounting to get the results that high. Perhaps the workers came on a Sunday afternoon, when everyone was home from church and having a big get-together. Then, when they were all stuffed, they went out to walk around the block.

The workers, who had gone door to door to talk personally with everyone they counted, said, "Oh, here's some new faces. Howdy. Are you all from here?"

"Sure. Lived here all my life."

So they counted them again. They were walking quite energetically, and the aerobic activity resulted in a weight loss. Turning another corner, they again bumped into census workers, who dutifully reported them again.

Just a thought...

Podunksville is very close to a whole host of towns also not found on your atlases: New York, Iowa, and Bethlehem, with, I am told by two old timers from the area, a creek named The River Jordan in between them, Confidence, Harvard, Promise City, but on a state map, only Promise City would still be there, even though it has lost all its gas stations, grocery stores, its school, and the US PO keeps threatening to close its office. Anyone living in Podunksville, like I do, will have a Promise City postal address, and that will have to be good enough.

When I moved into the area, my mother asked for directions to my house for a visit. This citified lady doesn't reliably know her right hand from her left, north from south, can only tell east from west reliably at sunrise or sunset, has not the least conception of how long a mile is, or how long it should take to drive it at 60 mph, (in fact, probably could not define mph), but CAN follow clear directions,

"I just bought a nearly 75 year old house on 80 rolling acres in Podunksville, Iowa, but the postal address will be Promise City. The closest "real" town, with groceries, gas, or a church is Confidence." (Now-a-days, only the church is left. The store burned sometime before the road got paved. The only practical effect that had on me at the time was that I could no longer shop on horseback for a loaf of bread in the summertime. Remind me sometime to tell the tale of the first Thanksgiving I celebrated on my new farm...)

"I can't find it on my atlas." (This has been a recurring complaint as long as I have lived in this area...)

"Well, Mom, it's about 2 1/2 miles from Confidence, 5 miles from New York, 5 1/2 miles from Promise City, 7 miles from Bethlehem and 12 miles from Mystic."

"Don't you think you ought to say you are a little closer to Promise City until you get the farm more paid off?"

Gotta love her... She's one of a kind.

As the new kid on the block, I lived in the proverbial gold fish bowl. Everyone knew my business, or thought they did.

The day my mother came, armed with her directions, she discovered that
• I had traded in Centerville.
• I had attended the Promise City Methodist Church on Sunday, and had gone back of a night.
• I did not feesh, but was right neighborly. [translation: Others could.]
• I needed to change my earl. (translation: I needed to change the oil in Baby Blue Ram, my pick-up truck, whose odometer read 3000 when I parked at a churchgoer’s house to car pool to Centerville.)
• When my lawn needs mowed, I did not have to poosh my lawn mower; it walked by itself. Mowing down the booshes and mowing the rough ground was a mite hard on the blade. They reckoned I had best get someone in there with a garden tractor to plow it up and reseed it lessen I was going to get myself a rider. (Nobody would be caught dead down here saying to be between verbs, and I reckon lessen I want to be thought snobbish, I'd best talk like the locals.)
• I'd best be careful, 'cause that man I was dating had a prison record. (translation: Gossip is rampant the world around. I WAS NOT DATING.)

(How prophetic! When I returned to school after my first year, one very magnificent older gentleman, Mr. Leon
Deierling, greeted me traditionally, "And how was Despina's summer vacation? What color is your gown going
to be?"

"My gown? What GOWN?"

"Why, your WEDDING GOWN!"


"Do I get to meet the guy first, or is he just provided as a community courtesy?")

My mother did reasonably well with the directions. She found the twin cemeteries on each side of the gravel road outside Confidence. She turned south the two and a half miles, passed the paved road, a half mile north of my farm. She easily spotting the huge "Sunny Slope Church" sign, but, not realizing that she'd covered 1/2 mile yet, she drove right past my farm, my pasture-ful of familiar horses, then PODUNKSVILLE itself.

I have to admit, she's an equal opportunity town-misser. Not realizing that she had already traversed the 1/2 mile, she continued another five or six miles, also driving right past Promise City, crossing over Highway 2's paving, and continuing south another mile to a T in the road.

There she reread her directions, discovering no turns once she passed the cemeteries, and, not being male, asked for directions -- from two men from my Sunday School class. The story of "The Day My Mother Came To Visit" became a local legend...

Instead of using the nearby gate, this well-preserved, cultured lady pulled over onto the wrong side of a gravel road at the bottom of a dip deep enough to hide the telltale rooster tail of dust, SHUT OFF her engine, got out, and started toward them, but stopped when she saw how steep and dusty the banks were... Obligingly, the fellows climbed over the barbed wire fence and waded through horse weeds taller than their heads to meet her. (Locals have a very active curiosity when it comes to eccentric strangers.)

"Will you please tell me where Paradise City is?"

"Paradise City? Never heard of it."

"I know it’s nearby. My daughter just moved north of Paradise City."

"She fixen' ta teach?


"Well, the town she’s north of is on the pavin' ya just crossed, but, believe me, Lady, it ain't no Paradise! Truck on north 'bout five miles, to the old Shorty Holmes place, and I'm SURE you'll find 'er."

She did, by stopping at every inhabited farm until she got to me. Unfortunately, when she was late, I decided to burn the boxes I'd emptied, carting them to the burn barrel, located directly behind an old slab wood shed. A huge Chinese elm tree shaded it and a nearby LP tank. I intended to jerk the rusted old barrel further away from the building, but I heard a car slowing to turn in, so I quickly lit the top box, then dashed around the house to hug her.

We carried things inside, had the mandatory tour, ignoring the unattended trash until we heard a knocking at the

"Hope ya don't overvalue that shed, 'cause I reckon it’s a goner," drawled a stranger in bib overalls whose red pick-up blocked Mom's Subaru. "You'd best get your truck out of there. You gots a garden hose?"

"Not yet."

"Hows 'bout a phone?"

"Not yet."

He backed onto the road; Mom dashed for her keys to her LOCKED car, (parked in the middle of nowhere), and I
fired up my truck, backing and cranking between the fence row trees and Mom's car, then sprinted to the barn for grain buckets to scoop water from the horse troughs.

The building was burning quite merrily by the time the local fire trucks arrived... Volunteer firemen swarmed in from everywhere. The company that owned the LP tank sent a driver to move it, but the cap exploded, shooting
a plume of gas higher than the tree's top into the night sky.

The tree also went up, sparks jumping to the house roof. Neighbors came from miles around -- the propane tank created a bigger diversion than the fourth of July fireworks, and drew people from a wider area. The firemen emptied one pumper and switched to another about 2 a.m.

Finally, the tank burned out and was hauled up into the pasture on its side to save the other outbuildings and reduce the risk of taking anything with it should it explode.

Gradually, the sides of the gravel road emptied.

As we dropped exhausted into bed, Mom quipped, "Honestly, Honey, I've heard of "house warmings", but don't you think this was a wee bit OVERBOARD?"

People in northern Iowa feel superior to those in southern Iowa. When I went back north to pack up, folks were just full of good advice.

"When you're driving along down there, be careful passing cars. Some of the old timers will signal a left hand turn by opening the left door as they are going along. I'd hate to hear you hit one by accident." Wink, wink, nudge, nudge...

"Oh, so you're moving to Lapland."

"No, I'm moving to Podunksville."

"That's what I said. Lapland -- where northern Missouri laps over into southern Iowa. I've heard it said that if the bottom two tiers of counties seceded from Iowa and joined Missouri, it would raise the IQ of both states by 50%." (Readers are permitted one heart-felt groan.)

Southern Iowa, where Ottumwa, Iowa, is located. Ottumwa is so famous that even people who don't know that Des Moines is the capital of the state know that it is in Iowa, thanks to Robert Altman, the famous director from Kansas City, Missouri, who made it big with his movie M*A*S*H, which was spun off into a famous TV show of the same name, which, for all I know, might still be in reruns somewhere. Radar O'Riley was from Ottumwa.

Southern Iowa, home of picturesque Lake Podunk, where men fish, women tan, and toddlers learn not to play with worms with rattles on their tails.

Southern Iowa, home of kindred spirits "raised in the shallow end of the gene pool" in Kentucky, Arkansas, and Missouri, where, again according to northerners, the bright ones move away and the rest intermarry.

I am reminded of the lead character in Murder, She Wrote, who said she would not live anywhere else, as she couldn't write her stories without the people who surround her. Smart lady. Big cities are impersonal. To make connections with real live folk, move to a small town, and talk to the locals. Better yet, listen to them. Add a dollop of imagination, a smidgeon of creative gossip - a time-honored local tradition - and voilé, a book. Enjoy!

On Relationships

Thoughts sparked by comments made by Lela, Jess, Sue, Fred, and others in love:

"Are you open to warmth and affection?"
(The Kiss...a wave of incandescence flashes clear to her toes.)
"That's not warmth! That's an inferno!"

Knees wobbled to the point of collapse. Bonelessly, she leaned against him.

"That was a masterful performance."

"I either have to walk, or be assured there's a chance for me to play a leading role in your future life; I can't invest effort if you KNOW it's for what can never be more than a bit part."

Trial and Error method of relationships:
On being married five times:
#1 was a marriage of obligation -- she was pg
#2 was done out of spite -- his mother hated her
#3 was a marriage of convenience -- someone to help raise the already existing children
#4 was to secure somebody to love -- it was comfortable
#5 "He deserves it all -- to be loved, to love freely, a soul mate, to grow together.

Remember the legend on the mayonnaise jar, "Keep cool; do not freeze."

Fred, quoting, at his most outrageous: "Or are you afraid the the hole has become plugged from disuse?"
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Organization of the Novel

The book is coming together.

First comes the title page:

Summer Circles/Verano, Vivace ) Or whatever I really settle on...
by Sandra Hugus

Then comes the part called either Forward or Preface.
(Well, it is actually called Prologue at present... but I think only people with MA's in English are likely to appreciate the distinction.)

Prologue originally was followed by either Forward or Preface. Maybe Podunksville, Iowa, really goes in an appendix... it has grown from a casual remark to a fellow teacher into a five page slapstick comedy routine that OUGHT to be funny anywhere, but I have to pass it around to people who are decision people. I tend to leap wholeheartedly on the most outré suggestions and be totally delighted by them. I need feedback by (local?) folks firmly grounded in the day to day reality of local living.

(10/29/01) I did pass it around heavily, to anyone I could get to stand still long enough to read it. Several were miffed at the title, but unanimously, upon reading, the verdict came out "funny", not "offensive". But, the decision of front of the book/back of the book still is unresolved.

The part called Forward or Preface has been moved to the back and called Appendix II in a fit of sheer cowardice. I think I prefer it up front, serving as the lead in to Despina's title page, but it grew to five pages, and I did not want it to stop people cold, as it really is not ABOUT things in the novel at all.

Next comes the long title page:

What I Did On My Summer Vacation

by Despina MacKenzie

age 26

No longer single in spirit.

"The Dream" (9/4/01) is next.
Segments from the dream are interspersed with the "real" story as flashbacks. "First Meeting" (9/4/01), "The Recurring Dream" (10/29/01), "New Dance" (11/4/01), "East Is East" (11/4/01), "...and the Bees" (11/4/01), "The Arrival" (10/3/01), "Range War" (9/16/01), "Under Construction" (10/28/01) and "Tex's Propposition" (10/31/01) exist on Live Journal so far. I intend the chapter titles to say either The Dream or The Recurring Dream, and eventually, all the proofreading will get done, and they WILL read that way...

"Ye Olde Watering Hole" (8/28/01) begins the real time story proper...

"Before the Mike" (8/26/01 23:45) follows, then "Range War III".

"The Water Pitcher" (10/28/01), "Elemental Forces" (9/19/01) and "Vows" (9/21/01) are still at YOWH, but I am not sure they are in the right order. The section where she and the sheriff take Tex home is still entombed in the green journal, awaiting posting, along with the wild trip to the res, and the decision to tell it second hand or put it center stage has not been made yet. It is the first of the Magic Realism stuff other than the fact that the dream is coming true, sort of...

Once she actually hits Stone Circles Reservation, "Under Construction" (10/24/01), "El Alfabeto" (10/28/01), "Class Projects" (9/29/01), "The Wind" (10/24/01), "La Bañera" (10/29/01), "La Bañera" (10/19/01), "The Rescue", and "Refrigerator Art" (10/28/01) are posted.

Jumping back and forth between the dream segments and the actual action real time, told in present tense, will either enrich everything and greatly increase the humor, or confuse people totally. I can't decide which. Some feedback here would be appreciated.

I am also thinking I should add the reference dates to the names, so folks can find the pieces easily...if anyone is even reading this stuff on this forum.

The Universal Themes (9/9/01) has found its way into an appendix, currently labeled Appendix I, as well as a sheet with complete lyrics to the song Despina sings... These things are all subject to change and comment.

Other miscellaneous things: Snazzy Titles (9/7/01). The great title debate is on. Post your opinion, suggestions, favorites and reasoning under comments. Chapter Titles (10/3/01), which always lag behind the creative process a bit...
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