Summer time, and the living is easy. At least on the weekends.
With nothing to do, my friend and I decided to take a day trip. Wandering the Iowa countryside is among a few of my favorite things (I'm a sucker for barn quilts). Though there are so many small towns to (sort of) get lost in, we chose Wilton, Iowa, as our destination and excuse to ramble the highways, the fecundity and green-scapes of which always astonish.
We pushed off in the afternoon, Lynne Rossetto Kasper (blaring?) on the radio, hawks sitting sentry on the fence posts, raccoons in different postures of easy and difficult deaths holding their stiff paws out to us in greeting. The cattle blinked past, and the fields delivered on their promise to resemble a giant quilt of baby corn, hay and soybeans. The smell of hot asphalt, pig messes and green(ish) rivers carried us over the rolling hills (Iowa really isn't all that flat, it turns out, so those t-shirts aren't really that ironic, sorry).
We pulled into Wilton around 1 p.m. I had heard of the famous Wilton Candy Kitchen from one of my clients at the salon. I find that it is usually beneficial to check things out that other people recommend. Woody Allen himself has said that, "Ninety percent of life is just showing up." I should title this blog, "Other people’s recommendations," but I digress.
So we parked in front of this place and walk up to the door, feeling a little strange, as if my Ford Aerostar were a time van that has driven us to the year 1856. I reached for the door handle and noticed a sign, "Will return at 2:30."
Oops, should’ve called ahead. The owners of Wilton’s Candy Kitchen, descendants of the original owner Gus Nopolous, are now well into their 80s and likely to be napping. That morning, we later learned, they had waited on the entire town band and a volleyball team to boot.
Diverted but not defeated, we decided to wander Wilton a while and wait it out. The day was hot, with no clouds. Not many people were in the streets; actually the streets and shops seemed a bit abandoned. Wilton is located along the Iowa railroad, and the Candy Kitchen is as old as the town itself.
If I wasn’t used to - accustomed to - precious moments from growing up in Iowa, Wilton might give me the Pleasantville creeps. But, since I did grow up here, when I experience a man carrying a baby duck into a bar for a drink of water, or sparrow eggs nestled in the bricks, it feels just like home.
We climbed the railroad memorial (shrine?) caboose to get a good look at it all. A golf cart drove towards us, so we quickly climbed down, but were relieved to discover that the golf cart was not campus security (that we fresh(ish) from college have learned to, if not fear, at least avoid) but none other than the friendly local “golf carter” driving his daughter to and from school functions. It seemed to us that he just circled the block all day, and who can blame him with a beautiful piece of machinery like that?
Wilton is home to more than a few strange buildings. One of them had a chimney half the size of it, housed a herd of sad looking appliances, and looked like the refrigerator mortuary in a scene from The Brave Little Toaster (or the type of scene I would imagine that movie to have). Another structures boasted a piece of graffiti that looked like an early Banksy (maybe the famous artist had humble beginnings).
2:30 arrived, and we walked back to the Candy Kitchen, where we waited another 15 minutes for any signs of life. Finally, a young man came to open the door and flip the sign. We walked in and waited while Thelma and the man (whom we learned to be her son) discussed the arrangements of who should have which keys and take which car.
After their discussion, Thelma turned to us and explained that they had had a big day. The town band had even played outside of the shop for them. George, she said, was in back, napping (later I saw him up and wandering ghostlike in the now closed museum section of the shop). A pre-teen girl came in, grabbed a bag of chocolates and sat patiently at the counter with us, waiting (a theme of patience is arising in this blog) for Thelma to turn her attention from us (which she would not do for a good ‘nother ten minutes).
I ordered a homemade ice cream Sunday with chocolate ice cream and raspberry sauce (also homemade). My friend got a cherry vanilla soda, made from syrup. Thelma took her time scooping and pouring, while the girl next to us, now joined by her mother, got a pep talk about how to apply for a job.
I hate to be hyperbolic about it, but the Sunday was what I would use to describe the perfect ice cream experience (I am a connoisseur, as my first job was at Jensen's DQ), and the soda was the perfect blend of sugar and fizz, a pop bred for this purpose, the standard poodle of soft drinks.
As we made our way to leave, Thelma solicited us to sign the guestbook, which was overflowing (we had to sign on some legal paper next to it). We also picked up some post cards. One featuring Thelma and George that she signed for us, asking, “Do you like this picture?”
“It’s really nice,” I said.
“I was thinking of using it for our tombstone,” she said matter-of-factly, “but George has these black rings under his eyes."
“Oh, you can easily photo-shop that,” I offered.
She thanked us for our business and tombstone advice, and we got back on the road, half in a daze, to travel back (to the future) a century and a half.