17 July, 2007

the land of corn and family


























Goodness, I'm sorry I've been so silent! I had some crazy idea that by leaving London where we were pulled in thousands of different directions, and arriving in America where we would... relax... I'd have more time to tell you all about what's happening. But in reality, life got even busier here in Iowa than it was at home. Truly!

We arrived on Wednesday last week to bright blue skies, warm luscious summertime air and the longed-for embrace of John's mother and father. I have to tell you: I have been arriving at one Iowa airport or another now for 24 years, to perfect summer weather and the expectation of sun, swimming, great food and my irreplaceable in-laws, and this arrival was no different. Just better, if that's possible. Because this summer we're not taking anything for granted.

Imagine you were loaned something many years ago, something you knew you liked and would enjoy having. You heard the word "loan" but you didn't really think much about it, because the term of the loan was so long. And anyway, you didn't know back then how much you would come to treasure the thing. So the years went by as you got to appreciate your loan ever more, and enjoy its presence in your life. It became a part of the beloved tapestry of your days and years, always there to appreciate, always the same. You never took it for granted, but you didn't always take the time to evaluate its worth to you, either. It provided one of the essential spices of life.

Then the lender reappeared, and said, "You remember that was a loan, don't you? And its term is due." You are completely unprepared. No, you didn't properly remember that you were only loaned this precious thing. It has become quite something you cannot live without. At first you find yourself in absolute unwillingness to play by the rules. You will keep this thing, no matter what an earlier agreement might have been. But in your heart you understand that these were the terms, and gradually you realize that giving it back will become part of the fabric of your life as well. In this realization, you examine your heart, which has been quite lazy up until now, and you see very clearly the worth that this loan has had in your life, and you are thankful.

By some incredible reshuffling of the kaleidoscope, then, the lender does not come back when you expect it. The loan is still with you, inexplicably, the same as always, only larger than life now, all its qualities magnified somehow, and set against a backdrop of a perfect summer evening, warm and welcoming, safe and cozy. You don't know how long it will last, but you find yourself wordlessly thankful for the extra time, for however long it lasts.

That's what our time in Iowa has been like.

And it all began with the Gilbertville "Cornerstone Tap"! There is no other place like it, except all the pubs in England where have ventured in, knowing we didn't really belong, but wanting to spend an evening with the locals, and hoping we didn't stick out too much. I first went to Gilbertville with John's dad many years ago, to the Locker where you can order any cut of meat, in any quantity, just for the asking. I have a mysterious soft spot (considering I'm rather squeamish in many ways) for butchers. There's something about appreciating where your dinner comes from, and appreciating the skill it takes to bring it to you, that warms my heart and makes me feel that it's all right not to be vegetarian. I loved my first visit there, coming away with a stack of luscious loin lamb chops that rival anything Scotland can produce in the month of May. Marinated with John's mother's garden rosemary, lemon juice, olive oil and fresh black pepper (never salt lamb raw! it leeches the juices), and then grilled to perfection. You can't beat it.

But we were too hungry when we arrived to contemplate cooking, so thank goodness for the "Cornerstone." Gratefully, we sidled into the Tap and sat down to order a tenderloin. Before we could, however, in marched John's parents' adored friends, several sets of them and their kids, complete with "WELCOME TO IOWA" signs! Totally heartwarming! And could there be a more delicious pork tenderloin on the face of the earth? I don't think so. Delicately breaded, hugely overflowing the bun, piled with red onions, lettuce and tomatoes. And you want to hear something funny? We drank the bar out of gin! And I think we ate everything they had. A glorious perfect evening that reflected one of my favorite wedding toasts: "To friends who are family, and family who are friends."

More soon! About the Bat Mitzvah for our niece in Minneapolis, and Avery's... radical haircut. I told you, we've been busy.

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