When I tell people that I'm originally from Iowa, I make sure to include Northeast in front of it. Not that this means anything to the people I'm telling this to. In fact, I'm sure that it doesn't. To people who aren't from Iowa, the entire state is viewed to be pretty much the same, with flat land and corn, and not much else. I've lived in Iowa City, Dubuque, Mason City, and Cedar Rapids (all sprawling cities compared to my home town), but living in Northeast Iowa is a different experience--not necessarily better or worse, but different.
My parents moved my older brother, Matt, and I from Iowa City to Calmar when I was in the seventh grade. I was twelve years old, and naive, and excited to add new friends to the good friends I already had in Iowa City, of whom I quickly lost touch with. Matt was sixteen, and a junior in high school. His closest friends to this day are the friends that he had in Iowa City, before we moved to Calmar, and in hindsight, the transition was understandably tough for him. Because of this, the way we view Northeast Iowa is vastly different; he made his closest friends and best memories in Iowa City, and I made my closest friends and best memories in Northeast Iowa. Our nostalgia scale tips in my direction, and even though my parents moved to Kansas five years ago, to me, somehow it's still home.
My dad still raves about how nice the people are. Every Christmas he tells me how he used to golf his rounds at the South Winn Course first, and then pay afterwards, or if no one was at the counter he'd just leave the money. He almost gets teary-eyed when he tells the story. "Now, there might not be a ton of things to do, because there isn't much around," my dad told me this Christmas, "But you can't beat the people, Mark. And that's important." He loved that you could still pump your gas before you paid for it, and that he only had to walk three houses down our street to watch my baseball games.
I lived there for six years, and there is a certain trust that comes with living in a small town. It's just the familiarity that builds trust more than anything--familiarity with the people, their routines, the pace of life. When someone I don't know says hello to me in Calmar, I know that they probably know me, or my parents, or their son or daughter is friends with my brother, and even though all of my extended family lives in Indiana, it just feels as if they could have gotten drunk with some distant cousin or uncle of mine when they were in high school. There is a closeness that comes with seeing and knowing your neighbors literally your entire life.
In Calmar, my anonymity disappears at the gas station, and although re-telling "what I've been up to" to five people, when I just want to buy three hot dogs for a dollar, can be cumbersome. In the end, it is nice to live amongst people who actually care enough to ask, who somehow feel invested in my happiness, and how I somehow feel invested in theirs. To me, this is why I make the distinction that I am from Northeast Iowa and not just Iowa. Even though I now live in Colorado, and haven't visited in years, I'm still invested somehow. It's a community that, if you really become a part of it, never actually leaves you.