I stepped out of my house and into a Norman Rockwell painting.
Sunday's weather was unusually comfortable for an early August afternoon in Iowa, if a bit overcast. A few clouds were turning dark around the edges, making the sky look slightly ominous, while keeping the temperature in the mid-70s.
I chatted in passing with a neighbor working in her yard. Her hanging baskets overflow with beautiful flowers every year, filling me with envy and awe, as I struggle to keep hostas alive. We both grew up in a small town barely 12 miles away. Our current hometown high school and former hometown high school were arch rivals back then, and, as we were both cheerleaders, switching loyalty between the two would have been unthinkable. But a mom's first allegiance is to her children. We both wear t-shirts emblazoned with the current hometown school's mascot – requisite small-town boosterism.
I hiked down the dirt path snaking through the farm field that separates our subdivision from the town proper. The field was all grown up in weeds this year, although whether it was purposely allowed to lie fallow, or if the farmer just grew tired of people tramping through his corn and beans, I do not know. I do know the path moved a few feet to the west this year, skirting the worst of the erosion-carved ruts, particularly at the bottom of the hill.
As I emerged from the last of the weeds and scrub brush, a car pulled to a stop in the middle of the street ahead. A woman stood curbside, keeping one eye on a wobbly toddler, while visiting with the car's driver. I walked down the block, turned the corner, and still did not see any traffic that would disrupt them.
The streets were not entire deserted. I watched as a statistically correct family bicycled by in a neat line -- Dad, followed by Duckling One, Duckling Two, and Mom. On the next block, a small group of small kids played a game of driveway basketball. The “poing” of the ball echoed between the houses, as their shots fell short of the regulation-height hoop.
The dogs in this neighborhood are familiar with me, yet still bark a welcome and signal my approach to the dogs on the next block over, which they relay to the next, and so on.
I headed up another hill, this one covered by carefully manicured lawns. This street was part of the Hometown Days parade route the day before, yet not a speck of post-parade debris remains. American flags flutter from every porch or yard, many the result of a Lion's Club fundraiser/patriotic service project.
I listened as the wail of a siren grow louder and nearer as I approached the nursing home, then breathed a sigh of relief when the flashing lights stopped at the top of the hill, near the water tower. By the time I arrived, firemen were exiting the water treatment plant – a building not much bigger than a single-car garage. A few neighbors, drawn outside by the commotion, were heading home as the firemen repacked their gear. I recognized most – some by name, others by face.
It doesn't get much more “Our Town” than this, I think. I doesn't get much more Apple Pie, much more Red, White and Blue than this. Every Midwestern stereotype, every All-American, small-town cliché is played out here in my hometown. It is movie-set perfect.
So why do I find myself wishing for an alien invasion?