I grew up in Dawson, Iowa – my entire small and happy world was a tiny town, with neighbors that looked out for one another. Together my sister and I attended school in Dawson, walked to the grocery store and post office (located in the back of the building), and faithfully attended Sunday school at the Evangelical United Brethren Church. Looking back, with the kindness time allows, I remember my neighbors, teachers, and pastors with fondness. I’m not so sure they’d think the same of a scrappy girl and her two brothers who frequently seemed to find mischief.
Let’s fast forward about 50 years, and return to Dawson, Iowa. I arrive in Dawson by bicycle, thanks to the incredible Raccoon River Valley Trail; from Perry it is 6 easy miles through woods and farm fields. That landscape has changed – 50 years ago there were many more small farmsteads between Dawson and Perry; evidence of these farms and families remains only in old photographs and aging memories. I spot the immense West Central Cooperative grain facility before arriving in Dawson; the smaller grain elevator of my youth is gone, as is the lumber yard, the school, and the gas station. The church remains, but is now a United Methodist Church, the parsonage was sold to a private individual. While I ride my bike around town, I see only change, so I return to the Raccoon River Valley Trail and ride west a little further. There, I wander through the small rural cemetery, nestled appropriately among farm fields; with the sound of the wind and bird song, I find the names of family, friends, teachers, and neighbors of my youth.