I was six years old the year we moved from a rented farm to one my dad bought near the small town of Oyens in northwest Iowa. I lived there for another 16 years and loved it. It disturbs me, even now, when anyone new to the area mispronounces the name of the town. It is supposed to be pronounced as if you were saying two letters "o-ns". Instead people pronounce it as if they are making a disgusting sound that rhymes with coins.
Our land began one block north of town and lay across the road from the cemetery. We soon knew the town well. It was made up of about 20 homes, 2 churches (Catholic and Danish Lutheran), 1 parochial grade school, 2 gas stations, a grocery store and post office combined in one building, a lumber yard, feed store, 2 beer joints and a repair shop. Another building housed what was called city hall because there was a desk in it for the mayor (he was only there during council meetings), the jail (a metal cage), a fire truck and a barbershop. I think at one time the mayor was also the barber.
Our school was not exactly a country school but the county treated us as such. No one who attended the small parochial school could attend high school without passing the County Exam. Some of my friends were intimidated by the thought of taking those tests. I don't know why because it seems every year everyone from our school passed the tests and went on to high school. I, for one, liked tests, particularly when they asked essay type questions. If I wasn't sure of the exact answer to a question, I could write enough telling what I did know about the subject to get by. It was that old gift of gab being put to good use.
The grocery store was not large enough to carry anything but very basic supplies. The Watkins man visited the farm frequently and our mom would buy vanilla, cocoa, cough medicine, bottles of flavoring for making nectar and cleaning supplies from him. A grocery truck came by occasionally but we had chickens, hogs and cows to supply us with eggs, meat and milk. Mother had a large garden in the summer and canned fruit and vegetables for the winter months. I don't remember that he got much business from us.
The highlight of the school year during those first years was the last day of school. It was very special because the mothers came and set up tables outdoors and led us in sack races, relays and other games until lunch time. Then we found the tables loaded down with hot dogs in buns, cold meats and cheese for sandwiches, potato salad, wilted dandelion greens, apples and oranges, cookies and brownies and several flavors of Kool-Aid to drink. I think that is where I ate my first potato chip, too. After we had eaten, school was dismissed for the summer.
That day became less special as I got into the higher grades. It was then we found the picnic ended with a clean-the-school project. We scrubbed and dried blackboards and windows. We wiped down school desks and seats and put books in order on the library shelves. I am not sure everyone in the upper grades had to do this, but the town kids did. Because we lived so close we were always considered to be town kids.
Tuesday nights were special in the summer. It was movie night. The town council painted what had once been a big advertising sign. It became a white background on which they were able to project movies. We had to wait until it was dark for the movie to begin. No one had ever heard of daylight savings time so dark came earlier in those summers. The empty lot in front of the sign had been mowed. We spread blankets out, sitting on them to watch the usual Wild-West movie. Ooccasionally there was a movie featuring the Three Stooges. I preferred watching cowboys shooting guns from behind rocks to watching Larry, Curly and Moe knock each other on the head and act stupid.
Tuesday nights also became nights of adventure because we had to walk home past the cemetery after the movie. Car lights passing would bounce off the monuments and we made up stuff just to scare ourselves. Sometimes my brother helped out with the scaring stuff by running ahead of us to jump out from behind a tombstone with an eerie yell when we got close. The adventure ended once we got past the cemetery and safely on the dirt road leading to the farm.
Not long ago we were at a steak house and it just happened there were four groups of diners that included people with whom I had attended grade school. They would greet me with my first and middle names or I would call them by their Baptismal name. The Sisters didn't allow Lawrence to be Larry, nor John to be Jacky. It led others to say, "You must be from Oyens." Not one of us had lived there for over 40 years, but we all still proudly claimed it as our hometown.