If You Come From Iowa…
“After all, you are as your land and your air is. You are brilliant and subtle if you come from Iowa and you are as you are, and you live as you live and you are always well taken care of if you come from Iowa.”
- Gertrude Stein
Everybody’s Autobiography (1937)
I heard that Gertrude Stein never stepped foot in Iowa. I heard that she had planned to give a lecture in Iowa City, but never did because of a snow storm. So what did she know? On what did she base this statement? It’s certain that she had met Iowans in her circle of writers and artists. She might have been referring to writer and photographer Carl Van Vechten who was born in Cedar Rapids and who met her in Paris in 1913. It’s hard to think she could have been talking about Iowans in general. Was Carl Van Vechten brilliant, subtle and strange? Who knows.
What could she have possibly meant? I’m from Iowa. I know lots of people from Iowa. I think Iowans would think that it was the epitome of arrogance and conceit to believe what she said. To even consider it. Iowans aren’t self absorbed. They’re generous to a fault. My sister, for example, is very Iowan. She’ll bend over backwards and ruin herself in trying to help you. She’d never even consider that she’s wonderful for doing this. It’s just what she does. It’s just what Iowans do.
Maybe it’s the weather. The weather in Iowa is an adversary. No, it’s not as adversarial as North Dakota or the Yukon for example. But it’s pretty unpleasant. The weather in Iowa is like the little girl with the curl right in the middle of her forehead. When she’s good she’s very, very good. When she’s bad she’s horrid. So Iowans have to band together against a common enemy. They’re too distracted fighting the elements to be selfish. All over the world strife unites people and brings out their best. Adverse weather is a kind of strife. Just ask anyone who’s lived through a tornado.
Iowans are brilliant when they are being helpful. I have to disagree with the subtle part. If anything Iowans are anything but subtle. Iowans are direct and say what they mean. There’s nothing strange about them either. Iowans are transparent and open as a book. The one thing I agree with is that Iowans live as they live and are well taken care of. Iowans take pride in what they do. Everywhere I go in California I see farms and small ranches that are literally dumps so much garbage do they have. You simply don’t see this in Iowa. Iowans take care of themselves and they take care of their stuff. In The Bridges of Madison County Francesca sums it up when she describes her Iowa farmer husband to Robert Kincaid. “He’s clean,” she says.
I guess that I’m proud that I come from Iowa. Being Iowan is a good thing. I thank Gertrude Stein for her kind and odd words. I think I’ll just stick with that.