Thursday, August 5, 2010

Coming Into Des Moines: 1970

It must have been November when we moved from Johnson City, Tennessee to Iowa. Possibly December. It was a move most welcome by all of us in the family--except perhaps by Father. We--Oldest and Second Oldest Brother, Sister, Younger Brother and myself--had all gone through the shock of living in a place like Eastern Tennessee in the late 60's (after having lived in a rather progressive-minded place like Vancouver, Washington) and we had all wanted out, as did Mother, I'm sure. So, we were eager to get to Des Moines.
I really don't recall the drive up. I'm guessing we took two days. But what I remember is that--my father worked for the V.A. as a psychologist, as a Chief of Staff--the government gave my father a moving/living allowance and the first place we lived while my parents looked for housing was the Holiday Inn on the east side of the city. This was like at the intersection of Douglas and maybe SE 14th Street (I think). And, this is not a pretty part of town. Was not, still is not to the best of my knowledge. Yet, there was very much a sense that we were somewhere different, that the stores and streets, the people were different.
We were somewhat used to living in motels, as we had moved before, but this was a rather bleak place, it was cold and gray, the surrounding area was old and unfriendly (there was some store across the busy street that we'd wander over to, it had a few arcade games and those gumball machine-type things), it's intersection full of traffic (at least to us) and industrial-feeling.
My father had to start work right away and the rest of us were pretty much free--we were out of school though we should have been in it; I missed at least a month of 7th Grade with this move. (I remember going around to all my teachers back at East (Junior) High, getting grades from them on some piece of paper because we were moving, recall my squat little woman geography teacher saying, "Oh, you're going to Iowa where they have all those pigs." Ah--the start of the many misconceptions people have about the state of Iowa.) So--I don't know--we did what we did around the Holiday Inn where we had adjoining rooms for all seven of us, my Mother handling it all, everything strange and new and not very beautiful. Eventually we moved to another, smaller place--The Redwood Motel or some such--which was on Douglas/Euclid right next to the V.A. Hospital where Father worked. We did spend weekends looking at houses around town, which I vaguely recall, and by that time I think they decided on the suburb of Urbandale to buy a house. So, our family of seven was squeezed into two rooms--some kind of suite-like place--at this small motel in the winter of 1970.
Such as it was.
There were the expected problems and despair, the sibling battles and all that. But then--a house purchased but not yet ready to occupy--it was time to start school.
Mother got us all registered, got the situation set up. But, we were still living in the motel. But, we needed to be in school. No one wanted to go to school, but we did.
What I mainly recall is my mother having to get all we five reluctant kids ready and hauling us to the local cafe for breakfast and the hauling us out to Urbandale (north of the city) and to the school. What a thankless chore that must have been. I don't really remember the first day or those first weeks too much, other than being the new kid who shows up just a week or two before Xmas, I guess (it could have been the start of school after the new year for all I can recall). I do recall feeling out-of-place, of feeling the strangeness of my new reality--as one would expect. But, there was more to it than that, I was changing too, going from a semi-rough outward looking kid to an introspective shy adolescent. I guess sometimes I blame that or associate that with the move to Iowa, but I know it was starting to happen prior to the move.
Anyway, what I remember about the first days in Des Moines are the cold gray skies, the Holiday Inn, the breakfasts of fried ham, the strange stores and restaurants, the fact that I felt insular, that the world was confusing and I was confusing myself.

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