So we took a little road trip between Christmas and New Year's, stayed overnight and came back home, meandering both ways.
We think the best way to do that is to stay away from the interstate highways and stick to the paved, county roads and highways instead. That way, not only do you get to see the countryside and the pretty farms, you get to go into the little towns and see what's happening there, too, how these towns look for better or worse, maybe what they're doing to thrive in our challenging times.
Something traditional missing all too often from our little towns, I notice, is an active school building. These are the places that for generations were the heart of our communities, but declining population and enrollment have forced schools to consolidate and close buildings. If you've noticed, it's common now for those consolidations to consolidate. It's also rather common for those buildings now to be used as community centers.
We drove through western Iowa, where the names on the school buildings had often changed since we were there last. "Too many" was the answer I got from a disgruntled waitress in one small town when I asked her how many towns were in their school, now a consolidation of a consolidation.
Another waitress in another small-town restaurant where we had breakfast lamented the closing of their school in her town, which meant her son got on the bus before 7 a.m. every day to get to his school twenty miles down the road. It's too bad no one can figure out another way to do education in our small rural districts.
I love watching for town slogans on the welcome signs in these little towns, another thing you can't do on the interstates, and we saw some good ones on this trip. "Blessed with the best" is what you'll see on the town sign in Kiron. Then there's the epic "Everything but a lake" in Lake City. Denison, according to its welcome sign, is "A Great Place to Grow." In Auburn, the slogan is "A Taste of Home."
I find I really appreciate the slogans that capitalize on the size of their town. I mean, they're small, so why not admit it and use it to your advantage - as in Harcourt, who proclaim they are "The best little town in Iowa." Lohrville has the same theme, with "Better, not Bigger" on their nice sign. In Vail, it's "A small town with a big heart," much like Dumont: "Small town, big heart."
Of course, not every town has a slogan. Maybe they could try a little harder. We did see plenty of towns with a nice "Welcome to . . .", which is better than nothing at all. Even without a slogan, that's just a friendly gesture. And that's what little towns are supposed to be.