Country Facts and Folklore
By Andy Reddick

The Stars Come Out Tonight in Our Home Town

Donna Muir was right!  She tossed a copy of “Christmas in Iowa” by Phil Stong on my desk that was photo-copied from the Saturday Evening Post, written in 1951.  “Here!  Read this—you might get some ideas for an article—besides, it mentions Keosauqua getting electricity in 1903.”

“How would he remember that?” I asked.  “He was born in 1899.  He would have been just four years old.  Besides, that seems awful early.”

Seems as though I recall that on my fourth birthday my Grandpa Fellows was put into the ground, and within weeks my grandma moved to Leando.  And yet, I remember the farm—where all the furniture was—the Alladin lamps in the middle of the dining room table for light at night, because we didn’t have electricity in 1945.

I was captivated with Phil’s article.  Gone, of course, is the Saturday Evening Post—also Life and Look Magazines that most people bought by subscription.  My mind was busy with my own memories as I read Phil’s article.  I always liked his descriptions and often wished that I could write like him—his paragraphs so busy.  Here he made coming home to Keosauqua at Christmas sound very exciting!

And, to any true Keosauquan, it always is exciting to return from anywhere outside the county.  At the crest of what they call Riggsby Hill, when you first see the panorama of the village below displayed before your eyes—and the sight of the old Hotel Manning—this floods the mind with many memories and makes the chest pound with a mixture of love, pride and nostalgia—home at last!

Although the memories of his grandfather’s store seem to echo Graham’s Department Store, formerly Priebe’s, Phil used actual names of people in the article, adding to authenticity. 

He said that when Thad Sherod’s restaurant burned down and someone asked him “How are things?” that Sherod’s reply was “O.K.  I had a good breakfast and it ain’t time for dinner yet!”  I had heard that one before, but from Mary Ovrom when we combined our talents writing for the Villages of Van Buren’s new  “Keosauqua book.”

Yes, Keosauqua probably did get electricity in 1903.  Rural electricity didn’t come through until 1950, but all the villages apparently had it.  I know Leando did in 1945.  That’s when Grandma first had “lights,” as the expression went.

Phil’s descriptions were very accurate—particularly about the times.  In an almost comical vein, he described Cecil Ridgeway’s gleaming electrical kitchen of 1951—that’s right!  When rural electricity went through, people bought everything electric within the next couple of years that was available—including television—as evidenced by the tall antennae on the roof that allowed users to get Davenport or Ames, and eventually Hannibal and Quincy. 

Like most people just getting “lights,” Grandma bought a Dexter electric wringer washing machine, an electric radio, an electric coffee pot, iron and other gadgets.  But, unlike most people, she refused to buy a refrigerator.  She had chunks of ice delivered to an ice box in the smoke house, and a cool cellar—that was good enough!

People sometimes combined getting electricity with piping in running water and building indoor bathrooms, which people proudly displayed to neighbors and “company” who came to visit.  It was a status symbol during the early ‘50s.

As Phil described Keosauqua’s isolation in his Christmas return from New York, I recalled many trips back from Los Angeles by air to Des Moines—then by bumpy shuttle bus to Fairfield. 

Some things don’t change in Keosauqua—like the stars that will appear tonight in the night sky over our cozy little home town.

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Contributed to the Van Buren Co. IAGenWeb Project by Andy Reddick