There’s no place like home

November 18th, 2012

The Waitts....lots of them, 1925



I live in Sioux City, Iowa.  It’s a river city of about 100,000 souls, if you count the neighbors.  It doesn’t grow too much.  I don’t think it’s supposed to.  It’s heritage is incredibly rich, both in the histories of the Native Americans who were here before, and the settlers who landed here from elsewhere.  We’re not Mayberry, we’re just a mix of new and old, growing more diverse and sometimes more progressive, and sometimes stubbornly clinging to old ways.  To me, it’s home.

My family has been here for over 150 years.

One of my ancestors, at sixteen, actually found the bones of the only man to die on the Lewis and Clark expedition.  My great, great, great grandmother Lois Bulkeley Grant Holman, a Mayflower descendant and cousin to Ulysses S. Grant, came here in April of 1856 with her husband William Palmer Holman.  She died three months later, at 43 and is called “the first white woman to be buried in Woodbury County”.    There are copies of a letter she wrote that spring in a couple of museums that describe her bewilderment and discomfort at her new surroundings in the strange but beautiful  land of the prairies, a place so different from the comforts of Connecticut, and the comforts of home.  She died on July 2nd or 3rd, 1856.  I was born exactly 100 years later.  She fascinates me, not just because our departure and arrival dates happened so strangely, but because I suspect she died, in one way or another, of a broken heart.  Her husband was like so many of my ancestors and relatives on both sides… pioneer stock.  They rarely saw a boat, a covered wagon or a train they didn’t want to hop onto, and hop they did.  They still do, but the means of transportation have changed.  I don’t think Lois worked that way.  My sense is that she was more like me.

My great, great, great grandmother shares a space in the Holman Cemetary, south of town. (IowaGenWeb)

A friend of mine once described Sioux City as a smaller, Midwest version of Jackson, Mississippi.  As I’ve lived here for over 50 years, and not entirely guilt free of that fact, it comforted me to learn that Eudora Welty live the better part of her 92 years in Jackson.  If it’s good enough for Eudora, it’s good enough for me.

I get out.  I love New York in September, California, when it gets rough here, Santa Fe and Sedona anytime, and England whenever someone will help get me there.  My siblings will tell you that I’m just not as adventurous as the rest of the pioneers in my immediate family who added West Coast homes to their lives, and I don’t like change.  My sister and I had a marvelous lunch yesterday, when she was back visiting.  We decided she moves too much and I don’t move at all, and somewhere in between is a normal person.  So, the siblings are right.  But there is something here…

It’s not the weather.  It’s as changeable as some of my moods.  And the lush green we have in spring summer and into fall, turns the inevitable brown, white, and gray- too quickly some years.  My younger brother told me that one day he stopped to fill his car up with gas on one of those minus a gazillion degrees wind chill days, and started cursing our great, great grandfather George Waitt, asking, “couldn’t he have ridden that wagon or train or whatever just a bit farther west and south?”  Little brother also said that there were three reasons he hauled himself out to California about 15 years ago and they were… “the weather, the weather, and the weather.”  I get that, and I get them.  But, all of them still have homes here too.

It’s not a boom town.  In fact, many bemoan the fact that it doesn’t grow much.  It’s fine with me, and fine with my native New Yorker husband.  He likes the pace.  We’ve seen perkier days here, and usually those perky times had to do with agriculture, cattle, and later, computers.  That’s what the Waitt boys did, for the better part of those 150 years.  The women were wives and mothers, and later teachers, social workers, volunteers.  We lived on the fringes of the Waitt brother’s ventures, but I think it gave us all a sense of home, of continuity, of tradition.


Early days of the cattle business

Still with the cows...tradition ( photo Mark Fageol)

It’s….the people.  I like swimming in manageable pond, full of people I know, and some I love.  But, I love a lot of people, and they live in a lot of places across the country, and some across the big pond.  There are amazing people everywhere, and some not so nice people here, but still…There’s something about Midwesterners, past the sometimes hard heads and the conservative bent.  They have a warmth that’s hard to replace, a work ethic that still works for them, and an old fashioned, dare I say “niceness” that works for everybody.  There was a reason my family stayed for all those years, and we couldn’t have done many of the things we’ve done and still do without the other inhabitants of that small pond.  As far and wide as my family’s businesses are now, they are for the most part, still run by…Midwesterners.  It’s nice to know you might have played as kids with the city council members, hired a couple of the mayors, and on a day not too gray,  you can visit the ancestors in their various resting places.  There are a couple of buildings that have our name, but that’s not the thing.  It’s the memories, to hold and to revisit when our world and our friends and colleagues move too quickly, and too far away, as they do these days. And… it’s the people who knew you when, and know you now, and most likely will know you for ever.

There is a story I tell when people ask me why I’m still here.  In 2003, my father died very suddenly, a shock that took us all years to work through.  The morning after the day he died, I stopped at the dry cleaners, just one of those things you do when you’re first grieving, to give yourself a sense of normalcy.  The woman behind the counter got me my things, and handed me a pair of pants that didn’t look like anything I owned.  She saw my look and said, “Well, honey, those are your father’s pants.  Your mother came in this morning and I just didn’t have the heart to give them to her.”  Only here, I think, for me, for that story.

The leaves are gone now as I write this, and California dreaming is strong, and I’ll soon be heading out, but only for a while.  The world turns to color when you reach the west coast this time of year, and it’s glorious.  But as Dorothy kept saying in Oz, and great, grandmother Lois knew,  “There’s no place like home”.

12 Comments on “There’s no place like home”

  1. kit gruelle said at 8:58 am on November 18th, 2012:

    This is a beautiful piece, and so very true. After moving to Denver just six weeks ago, into an apartment, into a strange setting/city at the age of 58, for work that I love, I STILL CRAVE home (“home” being my family/friends/the Blue Ridge Mountains)~ so I’m going back to NC.
    The lure of something new is powerful and it can be useful for widening horizons, but there is also something very comforting about looking at horizons that are familiar.
    Familiarity is irreplaceable. It is earned. It can be hard to create, but once it’s there, it is the equivalent of a soft, worn toy from childhood (Raggedy Ann) or a wonderful, worn, full-of-holes-and-tears quilt.
    I can’t wait to get back to what I know and love, to my family and friends, to those beautiful, soft, feminine, OLD Blue Ridge mountains and the warmth of what I’ve known since I was 17 years old. It’s just like you and Dorothy said: There’s no place like home. Thanks for this wonderful, warm, loving piece Cindy. It’s a good reminder for the upcoming holidays.

  2. Jayne McGuire said at 11:57 am on November 18th, 2012:

    Cindy, I was walking around downtown Iowa City this week when I realized one of the big things I miss about Sioux City, is seeing a familiar face.

  3. eric blumberg said at 8:25 pm on November 18th, 2012:

    You are the most loving wife in the world, love/

  4. eric blumberg said at 8:27 pm on November 18th, 2012:

    A beautiful summation of where you live and who you are.

  5. cindy said at 10:33 pm on November 18th, 2012:

    You make home even better. Love you!

  6. cindy said at 10:34 pm on November 18th, 2012:

    You are going to make me cry :).

  7. cindy said at 10:35 pm on November 18th, 2012:

    Jayne, when I think back, you are one of those people I’ve known the longest. How many years? xo Cindy

  8. cindy said at 10:38 pm on November 18th, 2012:

    You are a brave woman and never afraid to take a risk to serve your mission. I admire that. I’m so glad you will be returning to your beloved North Carolina and someday, I’ll spend a bit more time in your beautiful state. Happy Thanksgiving and much love,

  9. Linda Santi said at 9:57 pm on November 21st, 2012:

    Well said. Sioux City is the kind of place where, when you call the wrong number, you know the person who answers. And they maybe can tell you how to reach the person you were actually trying to reach.
    When I first moved to New Orleans to attend Loyola many moons ago (I was 17; I’m not in my teens any longer.), my roommates were from NYC and Chicago. They were fully prepared to think of me as parochial and sheltered being as how I was from “Sou-wee City Ioway.” They were always intrigued by the different people I knew – poor, rich, middle-class; black, white, red, yellow, brown; the 3 dominant Western and many Eastern faiths followers as well as humanists and non-believers; gay, straight, transgendered – closeted and out (and this in the 70s); ESL speakers; cultural supporters and counter-cultural practioners. When you live in a small town, you can get to really know so many more varieties of people than is sometimes the case in large cultural ghettos one can find oneself stratified into on either coast or larger cities here and in other countries.
    On Thanksgiving Eve, I’m thankful for Siouxland and the opportunities it always gives. I’m thankful that I can picture the dry cleaners about which you spoke (and the coffee shop next to it). I’m thankful for friends and family – still here and those passed. And I’m thankful for your wonderful essay about you, your remarkable family, and the quirky scruffy river town from which you all came. Happy Thanksgiving, Linda

  10. cindy said at 7:09 am on November 22nd, 2012:

    What lovely sentiments. We do tend to be passed over with the rest of the “flyover states”. Thankfully, there are so many good people, including women like you who spent so much time here. We remember you, and celebrate you as part of the diverse and wonderful family that’s part of our home. A very happy Thanksgiving to you and keep in touch…Cindy

  11. Lewis said at 1:07 am on July 19th, 2013:


  12. cindy said at 1:33 am on July 19th, 2013:

    Thanks, Lewis!

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