Back to Iowa

Back to Iowa.

One. Last. Time. Home. With a capital “H.”

For years, the trip was an annual pilgrimage

To see her mother, to see her friends, to see the land, to return

To gravel roads. Flaxen hair, riding beside her father

As they cruised the prairies looking for jewels.

On gravel roads high-crowned, deep-ditched

So they blew clear when the blizzards came

Wild rose. Indian paintbrush. Dwarf lupines. Meadow Larks. Blue birds

To the grocery & mercantile Uncle Willie ran in town

Nestled beside the apple barrel

While she read of fantastic places

I Married Adventure. Fifty Years Below Zero. Kipling. Sandburg.


Her mother died 45 years ago

Friends dropped away one by one.

She is the last one standing.

The county said she couldn’t live alone.

She could have a live-in nurse or go to a “home.”

She wanted neither.

When I visit, she says with pleading in her papery voice

Please don’t take me back to that place.

Where’s Bob? Husband. And Robert? Where’s Em and Peg? Three of her 7 children.

She doesn’t ask about the twins. Two of her children.

I haven’t heard from Mother in a long time, it seems like


I need to take care of some things at the farms, she says.

Century farms, their fate unclear after she’s gone.

The kids never got bitten by the farming bug.

The grandkids were all born in the east

They see the beauty of the place in its physical presence

Its place in her soul is a mystery to them

Union Slough. Reedy grasses. Herons, green and blue.

Red-winged blackbirds scratch their chick-a-ree call.

The sky in all its moods

From cerulean peace to tornadic wrath

Gridwork roads. North-south. East-west.

Tall grass ruffled into waves by the prairie wind.

Corn and beans and beans and corn.

Trees confined to the creek-bottoms.

I wonder why they always grow on the south bank, she wondered one time.

Life was always, prairie was always, a place of wonder, awe, beauty.


When can we go, she asks.

I want to go to the farms

Poor health or not, independent as a hog on ice (as the saying goes)

She’ll make the pilgrimage, no longer annual

Back to Iowa

One. Last. Time

Note: Eleanor Melville passed away April 3, 2016 about 60 days short of her 97th birthday. Though she moved to the Washington, DC area in 1963, her heart always remained in Iowa. She will be buried in Burt, IA, her home town. She was an extraordinary woman who lived a complicated life with grace and strength.

While the sting of separation is strong, she is still with us if not in spirit, at least in the lives of those she touched: in caring and compassion, in our family’s love for words and history and those fantastic places. Peace, friends.

5 thoughts on “Back to Iowa

    1. martinmelville Post author

      I can’t read it out loud without bursting into tears. I’m particularly partial to cruising for jewels, and the characterization of the sky.
      Independent as a hog on ice is a folk saying in that part of the world. Those hoofy little feet get less than no traction, but the pig isn’t about to let anyone help it

  1. Greg Morgan

    Thanks for sharing this, Martin. You paint a very evocative portrait of a remarkable woman–and, through the painting, of yourself as well. I am sorry for the pain of your loss, but I am grateful for you sharing about it–makes you a little less independent than a hog on ice, but I think that’s a good thing. Wishing you much peace …


    1. martinmelville Post author

      Thanks Greg.
      I’m intrigued that you see me in this piece. Another reader thanked me for allowing him a “window to my soul” on a different piece. Perhaps there is no alternative when you write from the heart, or from a place of prayer.

      She did indeed return to Iowa. We buried her there this past weekend. I read the poem at the service. The hardest part was hearing sniffles from those present. Then at the end, that “One. Last. Time.” just had such a finality to it. it really drove home that she is no longer of or in this world.
      See you in May?


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