U.S. 34 ~ South Central Iowa
Many decades ago, when relatives from Kansas City traveled north to our small Iowa town for family visits, at least half of their trip involved driving on Iowa highways. The experience invariably turned my usually sanguine uncle into a grump. “What’s with your roads?” he’d say. “You ever going to get something besides those concrete cow paths?” A Minnesota friend’s father asked similar questions when her family drove south into Iowa for business or shopping. “What’s with these Iowa farmers? Can’t they build a road?”
Everyone knew there was a problem. Ted Landphair, reminiscing about the highway that bisected my home town, wrote:
[I remember] winter driving on old U.S. Route 6, then a cross-country main highway rimmed by cement curbs. A highway with curbs? Not just in town, but even out in the county?
Having seen enough wrecks of cars that slid off the road in Iowa’s fierce snowstorms, some engineer must have thought raised edges would safely direct drifting autos back into line. In my case, they served only to dislodge my Beetle’s right hubcaps and ravage the tire alignment.
Few who drove on those roads failed to cuss at them occasionally. My father surprised us with a few choice words of his own after an encounter with a curb on US 34, a highway paved between 1928 and 1930, provided a memorable lesson in tire alignment and my father’s only known brush with the law.
We were heading home from a farm sale when something — a moment of inattention or simple bad luck — bounced us into and away from the highway curb. Under normal circumstances it wouldn’t have been noteworthy, but a strangely sibilant sound claimed our attention: clickety shhhhh clickety shhhhh clicketyclickty clunk.
After stopping to check the tires, Dad said, “We’ll stop at the next town and figure out what the problem is.” So on we went, easing along at 40 miles an hour or a little more: slow enough to notice if something decided to fall off the car.
Within minutes, we’d been pulled over by law enforcement. Whether it was a sheriff, the highway patrol, or local police, I can’t say, but I certainly remember Dad rolling down the window as the officer ambled up and said, “Going a little slow there, aren’t you?”
“I am,” Dad said, “but I hit the curb back there, and the car sounds like I did some damage. I thought I’d stop at a garage in Chariton so they can check it out.” Putting his pen away, the officer grinned. “Makes sense to me,” he said. “Hope it doesn’t cost you an arm and a leg.” Then he was gone. We were back on the road, somehow the problem was solved, and eventually we made it home.
Whenever I think back on that experience — my dad’s explanation, and the officer’s easy acceptance of it — I remember the road signs that made the exchange possible. Given our circumstances, it was perfectly reasonable that we should be making way slowly, and the law was on our side.
Yes, this was a real speed limit sign
The fact that the state assigned to motorists both the right and the responsiblity to decide the best speed for travel seems more than improbable today. The journey from Reasonable-and-Proper to You’ll-Take-Our-Regulations-and-Like-Them is a long one, and the curbs being put in place are increasingly high.
In those early decades of my life, ‘reasonable-and-proper’ applied to far more than life on the highway. People generally assumed it was reasonable to trust others, and proper to help them as we could.
If I needed a dress for a special occasion, I’d often stop by my favorite shop on the courthouse square and ask the owner if he had something new I might like. He’d show me a few things, then put whatever appealed to me into a bag for me to carry home ‘on approval.’ After trying them on at home, consulting with my parents, and deciding what I wanted to keep, I took the other dresses back to the shop and paid for what I’d kept. Only then was a receipt written up.
Taking things out ‘on approval’ wasn’t a special consideration for my family, or a quirk of life in a very small town. It was the way business was done. When the owner of the shop became mayor of our town, the same qualities that made him a successful business owner marked his service to the community at large
Occasionally, I’d don one of those special dresses for a shopping trip to Des Moines. The highlight of those trips always was a stop at the downtown Younkers: central Iowa’s version of Macy’s or Saks. Established in 1899, the store became almost mythical before closing in 2005. After its closure, renovations were undertaken, but in March of 2014, the old building nearly was destroyed by fire.
As word of the fire spread, nostalgic Iowans the world over breathed a sigh of relief that the Tea Room had escaped the worst of it. The basement lunch counter, popular with bobby-soxers and people pressed for time, served many of the same foods as the Tea Room, but the fifth-floor Tea Room was an institution.
The Younkers Tea Room Lounge in the 1930s
Even ascending to the Tea Room was an experience. Stepping into the elevator, store customers were greeted by an attendant wearing a cap and white gloves. Resting on a fold-out seat, the attendant pushing the elevator buttons announced each floor in turn. “Second floor. Millinery and ladies wear.” “Fourth floor. Gentlemen’s attire.”
Then, just when patrons thought they couldn’t endure another minute of creeping and stopping, the longed-for announcement came. “Fifth floor. Tea Room. Enjoy your lunch.”
Over time, the baroque decorations of the Tea Room’s earlier decades gave way to fresh interpretations of elegance, but at the time of my first rite-of-passage luncheon there, all the important pieces remained in place: the crystal chandelier; the white linen tablecloths and napkins; the scent of fresh flowers; and the glow of polished wood.
The service was as elegant as the setting. Not long after the 2014 fire Gail Froyen, a long-time Iowa resident, recorded memories of her time as a Tea Room waitress.
My first employment in the restaurant world was at the elegant Tea Room. The ladies lunching there were decked out in beautiful dresses, hats and gloves; gentlemen wore suits, white shirts and ties. White cloths and linen napkins graced the tables. Goblets sparkled, reflecting light from the hanging crystal chandeliers. A pianist played soft music and diners were delighted when seated at tables near the large, gracefully festooned windows.
Clad in my grey starched uniform, little white apron and pin-on hat, I reported to work 30 minutes early on my first day to be trained by a more experienced waitress. Her job was to teach me to serve “The Younkers Way.” She was excellent at her job, and intended that I should reflect that excellence.
After explaining the menu so I could ably inform the patrons how each dish was prepared, she taught me how to properly space the china and silver. I followed her for the rest of the shift, learning how to take an order, to serve from the left and remove from the right, pour water, coffee and tea. Patiently, she insisted on the correct way to be a Tea Room waitress.
What she really taught me was how to be gracious with even the most persnickety patron.
To put it another way, Gail Froyen was being taught how to respond properly to even the most unreasonable patron.
Dina Bechman, who worked as a manager at Younkers in the late 1980s and who supported restoration of the site as a way to preserve at least a portion of a building filled with so many memories, said after the fire:
To see it gone was just devastating. Try as we might to preserve history, sometimes that choice is taken away from us.
And so it is. In time, piece after piece falls away. Younkers is gone, closed because of changing times and then destroyed by fire. My favorite small town dress shop is gone as well, its kind and trusting owner laid now to rest. Even old U.S. 34 nearly has disappeared into the brush: its slabs of concrete meaningless except to those who followed its curves up and around the hills of a much-beloved land.
U.S. Highway 34 ~ going, but not forgotten
Yet if much is gone, much remains of the people who inhabited these buildings and traveled these roads: their trust, their graciousness, and their deep sense of gratitude for the fullness of their lives.
Willing to curb their baser impulses for the sake of safer passage, they brought stability to their communities, and a sense of foundations well-laid. Perhaps it isn’t reasonable to expect such trust, such graciousness, such gratitude, and such stability to prevail, but hoping — and working — to ensure their continuance always is proper.
86 thoughts on “A Life Both Reasonable and Proper”
Generally, “reasonable and proper” applies to all traffic laws…..you can be ticketed if driving too fast, say, on a snowy road, even if below the speed limit.
Anyone can be ticketed for anything, just as anyone can sue another, with or without justification. Here, I was less concerned with the niceties of traffic laws than with certain other issues.
Excellent post, so full of good human sense as well as of time’s passing. The photo of Younkers’ “corner of the garden room” looks so much like that of the cafe in a downtown Cork hotel from my vantage point there, I remembered all my marveling of that first morning in it. The coffee cups were small but came with cookies each time, there were umbrellas in the stand for anyone to borrow until their next destination (and to then leave there for others), fresh newspapers from all around for all, and everyone (like the actual music) was kind and quiet and happy to be there. I’m thinking Younkers must’ve been similarly memorable.
Younkers certainly is memorable, but not only for the crystal chandelier and the starched linens. The same graciousness and helpful attitude could be found at our favorite local café, even as it’s found today at my favorite breakfast spot down the road. I did smile at your mention of umbrellas and newspapers. I never saw an umbrella stand, but the newspapers always were on the counter of the less ‘elegant’ places, and conversation often centered on the stories they contained. Of course, some of the local gossip that never made the papers was part of the conversation as well, and that added to the fun.
It all sounds wonderful!
Your thoughtful essay on a bygone era, when people gave their best to be helpful and proper, brought back some fond memories. One of them needs to be mentioned here. In 1969, my wife and I travelled from Consort, Alberta, on a gravel road to a nearby town on a cold winter day. I lost control on a sharp bend, and we landed in a ditch. As we were standing on the road contemplating what to do, we saw a tractor coming down from a farm. Without saying much to us, the farmer pulled our 1954 Pontiac out of the ditch and drove his tractor back to his farm. I am unsure if this story fits into the theme of your post, but I was somehow prompted to write it.
It absolutely fits, Peter, and it’s a tale that illustrates my post wonderfully well. Sometimes, people respond to comments by saying, “I know exactly what you mean,” but in this case, I know exactly what you mean. In 1963, with a fairly new driver’s license, I was given permission to take the family car to the library. Being a teenager, I made the usual detour through the countryside, took a sharp turn on a gravel road a little too fast, and landed in a ditch. Because the ditch was filled with ice and mud, the car didn’t sink, making it easy for the farmer with his tractor to hook up a chain and pull me out.
There wasn’t a sign of the mishap on the winter-dirty car. I returned home and parked in the garage, certain I’d escaped. Two days later, as the mud underneath the car dried and fell onto the garage floor in great chunks, it was time for the conversation with my father. Despite my improper behavior, he was entirely reasonable about the incident.
You’ve rewritten this fairly extensively since the 2014 version. Back then I commented on speed limits and noted that a stretch of a toll road outside of Austin has the highest speed limit in the country, 85 mph. Now I’ll note that in On the Road Jack Kerouac mentioned US 6, as you also did. I see that where the old highway made it all the way across the country from Cape Cod to Long Beach, US 6 now officially has its western terminus in Bishop, California, close to the Nevada state line. That truncation, along with Younkers, is a case where continuance was not ensured
You might remember my mention of recently re-reading William Zinsser. I took this paragraph of his as a bit of an assignment:
” I love to rewrite. I especially like to cut: to press the delete key and see an unnecessary word or phrase or sentence vanish into the electricity. I like to replace a humdrum word with one that has more precision or color. I like to strengthen the transition between one sentence and another. I like to rephrase a drab sentence to give it a more pleasing rhythm or a more graceful musical line. With every small refinement I feel that I’m coming nearer to where I would like to arrive, and when I finally get there I know it was the rewriting, not the writing, that won the game.”
Highway 6 not only bisected our town, it was the main east/west route through town, passing by both the courthouse and the dress shop I mentioned. Unlike U.S. 34, it’s still there, and the Christmas parade still passes over it.
This morning (as opposed to yesterday) your talk of bisection gives me the whimsical idea of a Highway 3 west of your Iowa town and a Highway 3 east of your town together comprising Highway 6.
Unless they crossed, in which case Highway 3 X Highway 3 would result in Highway 9.
Look at me — making a math joke!
It’s high time for you to add math to your repertoire.
“such trust, such graciousness, such gratitude, and such stability”…..All earmarks of a civil society. Thanks for sharing your memories, Linda.
The value of those qualities was reinforced in multiple ways during those years, including in schools where classes in civics, world literature and history, and western civilization were required. Beyond all that, we were allowed to fight our various battles on the playground, and come to resolution on our own. It was a great way to teach the value of civility.
Your witness to the ethic and virtues of a culture that is now rare strengthens the prospect of its continuing, even if only in a remnant. The loving tribute here is a joy to read, and brings to the surface happy and grateful memories of my own. Thank you, Linda!
I know a writer who has stopped using the term ‘conservative’ to describe his views; instead, he now prefers ‘restorationist.’ However rare the qualities described here, they do still exist. Remembering their existence is the first step. The next step is working to restore them, however we can. Who knows? If even one more person experiences graciousness, we may have succeeded.
Thank you very much for giving us insight into the bygone times of the US.
All the best
The Fab Four of Cley
I often give thanks for growing up in such a time and place. It still exists, if less generally, and for that I’m also thankful. Even though this isn’t a formal holiday for you, I hope the Fab Four finds something to celebrate in the day.
What a wonderful post, Linda!
Thanks, Pit. I suspect both you and Mary have some equally pleasant memories; there’s nothing like a holiday to recall the times and people of the past.
I remember the gracious side of life, Linda. Hard to say when it was pushed aside for a more hectic matter-of-fact approach to life. This post brought back some of the memories of those days. Thank you.
Reclaiming that gracious life is something more and more people seem inclined toward, John. I suspect that’s one reason your good news Fridays are so popular. Many of us have had enough of the anger, snarkiness, and demonization of those with whom we disagree. Even getting into it with someone over the Oxford comma can be an experience.
I am so over people screaming at each other. I’m glad folks like the good news and hope what you say about people inclined toward a more gracious life becomes a movement.,
We often talk about these kinds of things – how the world has changed, and not always for the better. We try to hang onto the good parts, and manage the rest. Very thoughtful post, Linda. It probably means more to us folks “of a certain age.”
That’s the best advice, Anneli — hang onto the good, and manage the rest. Sometimes, simple avoidance is all that’s needed. It’s always interesting to read the musings of people who decided to give up their social media accounts. They often seem amazed that the real world isn’t filled with the vitriol they’ve been stewing in for months or years.
A happy Thanksgiving to you, and to all your critters. I suspect, like mine, they’ve received an extra portion for their tables!
You are right on the mark with your comment about those lucky few who have the sense to look up from their gadgets and their media accounts and see the real world around them, seemingly for the first time in ages. And yes, my critters really did get an extra treat today. A fresh suet block along with the seeds for the birds, and some of the hazelnuts I worked so hard to shell and preserve for the squirrels (a treat after the usual sunflower seeds).
Manners. That’s what we’ve lost. Good Manners. Not a set of arbitrary social rules, but a manifestation of the Golden Rule. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Shakespeare knew this: “Manners maketh the man.” Manners are the glue that holds society together. The lack of them is why it’s falling apart. Here endeth the rant.
I’m sure you were raised as I was: to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you,’ to be polite to old folks who rambled, and tolerant of the littler ones who annoyed you. After I came to Texas, I couldn’t understand why so many seemed opposed to the ‘Yes’m’ and ‘No, sir’ that were so common here. Every time I hear, “Howdy, Ma’am,” I get warm inside, and I love to watch the smiles on the faces of guys who hear, “Thank you, Sir.”
What a warm and heartfelt remembrance!
Sometime in the 80’s I stayed at a beautiful old hotel, full of richly carved and lovingly polished wood. The price of the room included the privilege of joining the town’s socialites for “high tea” in the large drawing room. It was as you describe, white linens, fresh flowers, cut crystal, waitstaff in impeccable uniforms. Nothing happened fast, but all were served in their turn. The high ornate coffered ceilings muffled conversations to a pleasant background. People were reading newspapers, and not a cell phone or flat-screen sports game was to be seen. While they could have imposed a dress code, they didn’t; our jeans and T-shirts and worn tennis shoes were as acceptable as our smiling faces. That little step back in time, infused with civility and mutual respect, has stayed with me for more than 40 years.
Thank you for bringing it to mind!
And there, tucked into the middle of your description, is one of the most important phrases: “nothing happened fast.” Sometimes I think society today resembles the metal merry-go-round on our school playground. The trick was to get it going as fast as we could, then wait to see who’d get thrown off. It’s an interesting exercise to ponder who’s pushing our social merry-go-round to the limits.
That said, I loved your account of your stay at the hotel. My favorite bed and breakfast is in Mena, Arkansas. Breakfast never was a muffin and a banana in a basket. It was served in the dining room. All of the guests ate at the same time — a time agreed upon on the night before — and the meal was prepared by the couple, with him in a formal chef’s uniform. We conversed and sipped coffee as we waited for our meal, and learned fascinating things about one another. If I ever make it back to Arkansas, I’ll stay there, for sure.
Younkers was a fabulous establishment. Not many of its kind remain in the USA. And what with online shopping, the days for department stores might be numbered, though I hope they somehow will hold on.
I hope they hold on, too. Apart from the tea room, Younkers also was known for its fabulous year-round window displays, and the marvelous Christmas windows they provided. Even in our little town, where Spurgeon’s and Woolworth’s were the ‘big’ stores, they were a big part of holidays, whether Homecoming or Christmas. Each school class would paint the windows of a different store, and ‘going downtown’ to look at that art was a yearly tradition.
Lovely piece, Linda. Fond memories of a different world in a different time. How I miss grace and gentility.
I think we all miss it, Eliza. Reminding people of what it was like might be a first step toward reclaiming at least a part of that world. Happy Thanksgiving!
What a great piece and so heart-felt.
The good old times do often result in the present being seen as less good. I wonder if those good old times were seen and truly appreciated at that time or is it often on reflection and looking back that we miss those good years gone by. A nostalgia that my parents often combined by also pointing out the bad times of the past. One reason my parents decided to go across the world to start a new life.
Lots of good things are happening now too with volunteering never been busier.
I think one difference between people of our age and experience and many in their 20s or 30s is that we grew up with parents (and others) who had known very, very bad times. They were sharply aware of how things had changed, and even though life was better in our growing up years, they tried to keep us aware of the possibility that life could change again. We learned not to take things for granted — at least, most of the time.
There are good things happening today, too. One thing I’ve learned is that the good usually doesn’t show up in the news reports. In this world of ‘anything for a click,’ stories of kindness or dedication never will rival the latest atrocity or stupidity. The old advice still holds true: the best way to deal with bad programming is to change the channel.
Enjoyed the walk back in time. I suppose the curbs on country highways were used like rumble strips now, so you didn’t drift to sleep.
I got interested in the whys and wherefores of the curbing, and discovered that their original purpose was to collect rainwater from the road and send it to drainage points. But when I poked around a little more, I actually found an Iowa Highway Department document on curb removal — the costs, processes, and such. It was interesting to read the collection of accident reports from curbed roads, from 1954-1958. If you’re interested, you can see the report here. Scroll down to pages 55-57, and there are the accident reports. They seem to support the suggestion that hitting those curbs usually threw the vehicle across the highway, into collisions with oncoming cars.
Anyway: what I really wondered about was what it would have been like for snowplows on those roads. Did you ever have to plow such a highway? Or did you contract for mostly parking lots and such? I’d think it would have been tricky to run a blade down some of those old roads. Maybe that’s one reason snow fencing was used so much.
How times have changed, Linda. An excellent reminder post.
Changed, they have. From my quick skim of your latest, it seems you got yet another lesson in that at your bank. On this Thanksgiving holiday, you can bet that one thing I’m grateful for is that I still have access to all the pleasures of an independent local bank. One of these years they’ll stop sending Christmas cards with everyone’s signature, but it hasn’t happened yet!
I remember scratching my head driving to Iowa from South Dakota for college. The curbs on the highway baffled me. I assumed they had something to do with drainage.
They were all ground off when our state engineers woke up to their danger, but they remain a memory.
Now there are newer highways 60 and 20 that let drivers zip through our area without a thought of what they’re passing by. Speed limits have been boosted by 10 to 15 miles per hour, but I still love to dawdle at the older pace. Might miss noting, you know, that cattle yard over their, that flashing yellow light at the intersection near the neighboring town, the highest point in Iowa, once a hog yard, now a rest stop and tourist site.
Loved “persnickety patron!” It was Pennys with my mom in my youth but never had the experience of a highfalutin’ cafe such as at Younkers.
You’re right about the original purpose of the curbs. They were for drainage. In the category named “you can find anything on the internet,” I found a 1962 report about the curb removal here. One interesting tidbit is that Hallett Construction was engaged in the work; I had an uncle who worked for them. On pages roughly 50-57 there are comparisons of accidents on roads with and without curbs in certain counties; the descriptions are interesting. Beyond all that, just looking at a technical report done on a typewriter sure brought back some memories.
We were dawdlers, too, and I never lost my love of it. When you’re raised before the coming of the interstates, and when going out for Sunday drives to look at the corn is a ritual, I suppose it gets ingrained.
ps: I do a little copy editing in my spare time.
I’m an ace at proofing (and rewriting) other peoples’ stuff, but my own? Oh, boy.
Fifty-nine pages via typewriter… My college career began with an electric typewriter and quickly segued into the first word processors (klutzy stuff). White-out was strongly discouraged.
I have memories of my four-door buggy riding up on those curbs when my attention flagged. Got the heart pounding…
I’d forgotten until just now the typewriters that somehow allowed you to go back, erase a letter by striking a key, and then typing over it. Lo and behold, those correction ribbons still are sold, so there must still be typewriters that use them. I used to have an old Royal standard, and I wish I still had it.
I think I’d curse the curbs as well, though I don’t think I’ve driven into Iowa from MN or WI. The trust, graciousness, and gratitude you mention are all things to be thankful for, things to cultivate as times change.
I never came close to Younkers, but the genteel setting I remember fondly is the Cafe Hawelka, a place I visited often when I studied in Vienna in the 80s. Wonderful coffee and pastries (a melange was the Viennese equivalent of a cappuccino), and newspapers out for people to read, including the Herald Tribune in English.
I found Café Hawelka’s website. This page was especially interesting, although I required assistance from Google translate to read it all. Gathering places like that are so stimulating. My favorite spot in my graduate school days was Caffé Espresso in Berkeley. Sitting around a table with strong coffee, sharing strong opinions, was more satisfying than ranting on social media ever thought of being.
I’d forgotten the Herald Tribune. We depended on the Des Moines Register, which (in my opinion) covered national and international news better than most papers do today, — including WaPo and the NY Times. There are multiple reasons for that, of course — including a growing confusion of opinion with news.
If I remember correctly, the Hawelka wasn’t far from the Opera. The other students I used hang out with would wait for standing room tickets to the opera, and then go the cafe. You could hang out there for hours, drinking a coffee or two. And reading the Herald Tribune.
I think two of the biggest casualties of our modern world are manners and trust. But as an aside, I didn’t realize you were originally from Iowa! I went to college there, and my husband was born and raised there. We are quite familiar with Iowa’s two-lane highways’ and although I never went to the Younkers tea room, I did love the store!
How interesting. I wonder if we went to the same schools. Of all the things I give thanks for, being born and raised in 1950s Iowa ranks right up there; I’m glad your husband had that experience, too. (Although I have the feeling you’re both a little younger than I am.)
Even better’s the fact that you know Younkers. Over the years, they expanded. There was a store on the west side of Des Moines, and eventually a smaller store arrived at the mall in my home town. As a matter of fact, my mother worked there during the Christmas season for several years, in the gift-wrapping department.
How fun! The Younkers I knew was in Cedar Rapids. We went to Cornell College, in a little town called Mt. Vernon approximately 15 miles east of there. My husband was raised in a small town about 20 miles north.
I know the area well. I grew up in Newton, went to college in Cedar Falls and Iowa City, but lived for a year or so in Atkins, just to the west of Cedar Rapids. I did enjoy my Iowa years — a lot.
Most of our road edges, if there is anything along them at all, are asphalt berms. But the local country market recently underwent a lot of renovations, including their own solar farm on site, and the road around the property was repaved with lovely sharp-edged granite curbings. Of course I am about to relate a similar story. As I was leaving the property, another driver pulled off the main road and cut across my side of the exit road and I swerved to avoid and shredded a nice new BF Goodrich on the curb. There was no way I could have the car limp anywhere so it was AAA to the rescue.
Unfortunately, our world can no longer survive on “reasonable and proper” with the aggressive nature of so many. In a hurry or just plain self-important, many take our caution as an opening for their rush to save a second or two. And that also applies to so many other interactions in modern society. Progress has its value for sure but those of us who remember “the good old days” know what the value of a little courtesy represents. Not a blanket statement on every human but all too many. When we were growing up most people relished taking it easy and many were more prone to concern for others, I think.
The two cities I grew up in, Schenectady, NY and Springfield, MA had their own, although not so grand, versions of The Younkers Tea Room. I never did have the opportunity to dine in one but did visit that in Springfield for our store in an attempt to take part in their redecorations. It was a sumptuously appointed room that hosted all the local important folks and some of the rest of us.
After all the effort that some states (including Iowa) expended to remove the slanted curbing on the highways, I’m a little surprised that similar curbs still are being installed. I suppose aesthetics played a role, but as you found, ‘pretty’ and ‘practical’ don’t always co-exist. Sorry you had to experience that sort of tire slashing, but I’m glad you have AAA. My membership has saved me from disaster (or at least significant inconvenience) a few times — not to mention showing up during the odd period of my life when I kept locking my keys in the car.
When it comes to aggressiveness, the one thing everyone around here has commented on is the increase in fast, aggressive driving. My theory is that a lot of angry people are releasing that anger on the roads. A change in traffic laws won’t stop it; a change of heart might.
I was a little too young to pay much attention, but as I think back it seems the Younkers Tea Room resembled my favorite local café in one important respect. There always was a mix of people, and a country mother and daughter in cotton dresses were treated exactly the same as the fancy-hatted ladies. It wasn’t perfectly classless, but it was easy-going elegance: the best kind.
Thanks for all the tidbits about Iowa days past. Iowa to me has one attraction, and also referring to time past: the Iowa Writers Workshop, by which I was totally fascinated reading up about it and the authors that attended. While I wasn’t talented enough to actually go there, I’d once enrolled in a writing correspondence course with the U. of Iowa. There, my two pebbles into the Iowa pond.
There’s another point of connection for us, then. During my high school years, I spent two summers at the University of Iowa campus, taking part in the speech and drama workshops they sponsored. Some of our instructors were associated with the Writers’ Workshop, although I suspect now that they were graduate teaching assistants or some such. We certainly weren’t sitting at the feet of Paul Engle! I wasn’t interested in the drama side of things; instead, I took part in original oratory, interpretive reading, and such. Both helped me in a latter career, and the final competition in original oratory during my second summer provided some lasting memories.
“Reasonable and proper” speaks to quality, whereas 60 mph refers to quantity. The distinction is something readers of the classic “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” by Robert Pirsig would be familiar with.
Not to dig too deep, but quality is hard to define and agree to, but quantity has a hard edge – very useful when dealing with lawyers.
What a great distinction. I’d not thought of it in that way, but you’re right. I’ve not read Pirsig’s book, although I keep bumping into references to it. Maybe I’ll put it on the winter reading list. In your second paragraph, I think you meant ‘quality has a hard edge’ to be ‘quantity has a hard edge.’ If that’s not so, I’ll change it back. A friend calls such things ‘thinkos,’ as opposed to ‘typos.’ Such a useful term!
You are right, I messed that one up.
We all do it. I’ve sometimes caused great amusement with my thinkos.
I enjoyed this poetic look at Iowa’s past, Linda, especially the Fifth floor Tea Room. You did a nice job of bringing it all alive in these vignettes.
Remembering those more civil days is one way I encourage myself to recreate them as I can. Even something as small as letting someone into the traffic flow, or returning someone’s cart at the grocery store is part of a return to a time I wish everyone could experience.
“Proper” isn’t a word you hear often these days, Linda, although many of us grew up with both the word and concept firmly planted in our psyches. “Reasonable,” on the other hand, seems to be widely used, but rarely practiced.
Your memories of Younkers are very special. For me, coming from small town Ohio to the big city meant an annual December trip to Halle’s Department Store in Cleveland, where we made a beeline for the 7th floor. Like Younkers, Halle’s had a very proper Luncheon and Tearoom, complete with white linen service. But I must admit that as kids, we headed to the 7th floor to see Santa. Each year Halle’s created a pathway through an enchanting winter wonderland that lead to Mr. Clause. It was the definition of magical.
Thanks Linda for writing this thought-provoking essay and jogging these fond memories. ~Terri
‘Nobility’ is another word that’s eased out of common use. The first definition in the Cambridge Dictionary is “honesty, courage, and kindness; nobility of spirit,” but say ‘nobility’ to most people today, and I suspect their first thought would be of Downton Abbey.
Your Halle’s was even better than our Younkers; I don’t remember Santa being available for visits at Younkers! Your description did bring to mind the scene in A Christmas Story where Ralphie goes to see Santa at the department store in order to plead for his Red Ryder BB gun. That gun, and the film, are so iconic that the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art had an exhibit centered on it a few years ago!
Kudos to you, Linda. Although A Christmas Story was based in the fictional town of Hohman, Indiana, much of the filming was done in Cleveland. And the Santa was based at a rival department store called Higbee’s. Does the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art still have the exhibit?
I doubt that the Red Ryder exhibit’s still around. It was one of several minor exhibits at the time, and that was several years ago. However: while poking around for information, I discovered this interesting tidbit about the way Daisy products are being put to work in the museum — and no, the guards aren’t carrying Red Ryders.
That’s amazing (and kind of hilarious) that BBs can have such a noble purpose! I can assure that I will look at sculpture pedestals with new respect.
I’ve never seen a speed limit sign like this one. I’m smiling. I have seen, and dined in, tea rooms like you show. I remember them in fancy department stores where we’d have lunch between shopping all the floors. Because that’s what ladies did, they shopped and dined politely.
‘Going shopping’ certainly was more of an event than it is now. Even a trip to the grocery store required a certain decorum. It was fine to wear shorts and tees by the time I came along, but none of us ever would have worn dirty clothes, or shown up with our hair in rollers. (Thank goodness those things have gone away.) On the other hand, I have a friend, not so very much older, who was expected to don a shirt and tie when he accompanied his grandmother to town — just as all his friends did.
The Tea Room looks lovely!
I remember it fondly. One thing I remember is that the staff never talked down to us children, or acted as though we weren’t there. We felt grown-up because they treated us as grown-ups.
What a delightful post, Linda — I’m happy to have found it after my Thanksgiving break! I remember traveling on some of those Iowa roads when Domer moved to Minnesota. It was planting time, and farm equipment ruled. Long lines of cars had to poke behind the equipment, which took up the bulk of the road and made passing impractical. Poor Domer got so worked up that we only went that way one time — the rest of our trips took us through northern Illinois and into Wisconsin. Can’t recall if they were longer, but they were certainly faster!
Your comment brought a smile. There was a good bit of farm equipment on the roads last weekend, and it can be a little tricky to get around it. But the farmers are considerate, and most drivers are patient, so it works out. On those old Iowa highways, it would have been much harder to navigate than it is here, where the land is flat and the roads have wide shoulders. I don’t mind ‘longer’ when it means less frustration, that’s for sure. There are some interstates in our area I refuse to drive; I’d rather poke along at a nice 60-65 mph rather than white-knuckling it among the 80 mph speed demons.
I prefer the two-lane routes over the interstates, even though I was raised in Michigan, another state renowned for its brutal roads. And in Detroit it was Hudson’s that drew shoppers downtown with similar appointments. It was unable to withstand the winds of change, either.
I just mentioned to another reader my own preference for the two lane highways. It doesn’t need to be a concrete highway, either. Our farm-to-market roads often put highways to shame; they’re well maintained, and don’t carry the heavy loads of traffic that can make a trip less than pleasant.
Once upon a time, the malls were the thing, and they helped to bring the demise of the department stores. Now, even the malls are changing. We have a couple that have been repurposed as community colleges — not the worst thing in the world.
This is such a lovely post and took me back to those days when people actually WERE reasonable and proper – on the road and with each other. I’m so sad that our culture has changed where it’s more about “me” and not about “them.” So, I loved this post as it brought back sweet memories of when I was a kid and my parents drove my brother and me on highways like the one you describe here, but the post made me sad that those times are long gone.
On the other hand, maybe those good times aren’t entirely gone. Every time someone smiles at another person, allows someone to change lanes in traffic, holds a door for a person laden with packages, or compliments a grocery store checker, the old days are back: if only for a moment. Who knows? Maybe those of us who remember those more gracious days should introduce the younger ones among us to the pleasures of civilized behavior!
You sound like me! (Or I sound like you). Yes, yes I didn’t mean to be all grumpy and “back in the day…” I find daily that a smile and an opening door, even a greeting while walking, brings such light in a person’s eyes. We’ll keep up the “civilized” behavior of kindness and love.
You didn’t sound grumpy at all: just a bit nostalgic. I hear expressions of the sadness you mentioned even in daily conversation. I’ve decided one of the best ways to move beyond it is to refuse the media’s insistence that Twitter and such represent “American opinion.” They don’t, and the gap between the online worlds of social media and what we casually call ‘real life’ is becoming more obvious daily — thank goodness.
Yes, which is why I deleted Twitter from my account!
I still keep a Twitter account, but I don’t tweet. I use it to follow about a dozen weather sites and experts. It’s the best way to get information fast during a storm, or to keep up with weather when I’m traveling.
Outstanding essay. It is so refreshing to find such quality writing.
It is easy to glance into the rearview mirror of our lives and long for another chance to re-visit that time and place. Nostalgia reminds us of the good times and pleasant feelings we experienced.
Times change. So must we.
Evolving and adapting to different times does not mean we must give up our personal credo for a reasonable and proper life. Just the opposite. We are each an individual, the sum total of our own unique life experiences. The world around us will inevitably change but if we are rooted in who we are, we will withstand external change without sacrificing our persona.
As technology has moved our society toward a faster paced existence, it is increasingly difficult to resist the desire for instant gratification. I have the feeling most drivers today learned their skills from a video game where speed and aggression are rewarded.
All is not lost. I personally feel there are two keys to improving our situation. First, we must make a concerted effort to teach our children what it means to live a gracious life. They need to learn it is okay to wait for a thing worth having. Second, it is imperative we “walk the walk”. Gini has always maintained that we are an example to someone, whether we are aware of it or not. Be the best example of who you want someone else to be.
“Yet if much is gone, much remains of the people who inhabited these buildings and traveled these roads …”
The people which make up our society want to be gracious, polite and accepting. They are being conditioned that they must be the opposite of those things to achieve “success”.
It is up to all of us to prove that all we need for true success is to live “a life both reasonable and proper”.
There are so many truths in your reply, it gave me a lot to ponder.
One of the first things that struck me was your assertion that adapting to changing circumstances doesn’t necesssarily mean changing our values. An example: when Facebook and other social media sites came along, the received wisdom was that we ‘had’ to participate in order for our blogs to be successful. I’d already decided that comments and conversation were more important to me than numbers, so I rejected the advice. I still don’t post to any social media, but I count the organic growth of my blogs as pure success, whatever the numbers. I follow a dozen weather sites and meteorologists on Twitter for storm and flood information, but otherwise I’m free of all that.
I chuckled at Gini’s assertion that we’re always an example to someone. Where I see that most often is in merging traffic. If I allow space for someone to merge, it’s quite common for the person behind me to do the same. As you sugggest, the urge to be polite and accepting hasn’t been extinguished, and the embers can be fanned back into flame.
When you quoted the line, “Yet if much is gone, much remains of the people who inhabited these buildings and traveled these roads …” I had a rather odd response. I thought, “Did I write that?” I had to go back and re-read the post. When I did, I realized that I’d unconsciously drawn on one of my favorite poems: Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s “Ulysses.” The entire poem is worth a read, but the conclusion is simply marvelous:
Come, my friends,
‘T is not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
Gives me chills every time I read it.
Even my coffee mug has chills now. Thank you for the reminder of how stirring Ulysses is. Will be re-reading in the coming days.
Thank you, Linda, for being our very own Ulyssees!
What a wonderful read. Sadly those qualities seem scarce today.xxx
The good news is that ‘scarce’ doesn’t mean ‘non-existent.’ Every time we remember those more gracious times, and do what we can to live them out in our own lives today, we’re doing everyone a favor– including ourselves!