Growing Up in Iowa, Across Generations

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The other day I started to take a walk down memory lane, visiting some of my favorite memories of my childhood. Arguably, I grew up in the last generation that wouldn’t be totally inundated by technology throughout their whole childhood. But, what about the generations before me?

How different was my childhood compared to theirs? Or did growing up in a rural area cause there to be little differences on how we grow up? So, I decided to ask my Dad, who grew up just 20 miles from where I did, in Northeast Iowa, about his childhood. My dad was born in 1952, a member of the Baby Boomer generation. I am a product of the Millennial generation, born in 1993.

Below are our answers, showing that many of the ways of life have changed, and yet some of the valued parts of growing up in a rural area have hardly changed, over the course of a few decades.

What were your favorite activities to do while growing up?

Dad: Play baseball, play hockey on the creek (we made our own sticks), play football on the school grounds, go fishing with Dad, and go hunting. My brother Jim and I would go fishing, with bamboo poles, with our Grandpa Berns when he came to visit.

Me: Playing catch, shooting basketball hoops, going on family vacations every summer, climbing rocks or walking in the timber, boating, swinging, fishing with Dad, writing stories, and reading.

Where did your family do their grocery and household shopping at?

Dad: They got most of their groceries at a warehouse grocery store in Dubuque that was cheaper. Mom and Dad would go while the older kids watched the younger kids.

Me: Mostly in Dubuque or Prairie du Chien, the closest larger towns which were both 45 minutes away. Mom would stop after work and get a few things at the local grocery store in town. But, it closed when I was about 10 years old.

What were the main businesses in the town you grew up in?

Dad: 3 taverns (a barber shop at the back of one of them), 2 grocery stores (Kerpers and Ahlers), gas station, 1 meat locker, 1 plumbing shop, 1 welding shop, 1 car repair shop, 1 bank, 1 veterinarian, a creamery, feed and supply store, post office, 2 electricians, 1 catholic school, oil and propane co-op, and 1 church (Catholic). Nobody lived in town that was not Catholic, and that’s just the way it was back then. I remember the first time somebody moved to town who wasn’t Catholic.

Me: Bank, post office, 2 churches, school, a few in-home daycares, 1 gas station, 2 bars, golf course and country club, public swimming pool, public library, grocery store (for the early part of my childhood), a hardware store that then got sold and turned into an auto body shop, and 1 hair salon.

How often did you go to Dubuque (town of 50,000, which was about 45 minutes away) as a child?

Dad: Not very often. A couple times a year.

Me: Pretty often. I would say every other weekend. But, at least once a month.

What did your parents do for fun on the weekends?

Dad: They didn’t do much since they had 9 kids. They visited relatives, played cards once in a while, and my dad would go hunting.

Me: They went out to eat with friends, went to the bar, and visited friend’s houses. We did quite a bit as a family: bowling, went to movies, and went on Sunday drives.

What was your prized possession and favorite toy as a child?

Dad: Daisy BB gun. One of my favorite toys was my bicycle because it gave me freedom.

Me: My doll that I took everywhere with me, Susie.

What events do you remember being headline news growing up?

Dad: John F. Kennedy being assassinated, man landing on the moon, (in the 1960’s), and Milwaukee Braves winning their division in baseball because I was a big baseball fan.

Me: When 2000 happened it was a big deal because some people thought the world was going to end, or it was going to cause our computers and other technology gadgets to stop working, September 11th, and the proceeding War on Terror.

What were your favorite activities as a teenager?

Dad: Driving a car, going out with my friends, work on the gun cabinet and bookcase I made in shop, and going ice skating.

Me: Just driving around with friends, going to bonfires, going to movies, going to football games, bowling with friends, being involved in school plays, and going to parties with friends.

How often did you watch television as a child?

Dad: Every night. We watched whatever Dad wanted because he was the one who had worked all day. We watched: Mr. Ed the Talking Horse, Leave it to Beaver, The Lawrence Welk Show, Gunsmoke, and Bonanza.

Me: Every night. We watched the news every night and all got to take turns watching shows we wanted. On Saturday mornings I got to watch the cartoons I wanted.