Geography of Somewhere: Visiting Atlantic, Iowa

by Chris on July 27, 2010

While you can’t go home again, it can be illuminating to visit. On our trip to my husband’s hometown – tiny Atlantic, Iowa – I learned more about him in a few days than I have on many more exotic trips.

Atlantic, Iowa

Travel can teach you much about a potential mate. I knew I would marry my husband shortly into our first trip together; as he maneuvered our 4 x 4 through narrow mountain roads in Dominica, dodging chickens, dogs and children without breaking a sweat, I thought: This guy can handle anything.

Yet nothing gives you more insight into your spouse’s DNA than a trip to their hometown. It’s an exploration of far more intimate geography, a navigation of the elements that shape a personality. Guidebooks don’t work here, as the landmarks are far too personal.

Atlantic, Iowa

My husband grew up in Atlantic, Iowa, a rural town of 7,000 not even remotely close to an ocean. The son of a local radio station owner, Don moved away at 18, following siblings who had already gone searching for opportunities elsewhere. “The Fausts are gypsies,” his father told me – reassuring words to a woman who can’t decide where she wants to live next.

Save an occasional reunion of extended family, Don rarely visited Atlantic. Although he enjoyed relating childhood memories and adolescent misadventures, he had little interest in returning. “There’s nothing for me there,” he’d say. So we saw his parents in Arizona, where they had moved long before we met, and plotted far-off itineraries.

Facebook brought him back. He started reconnecting with old classmates. Names I’d never heard came into focus, with accompanying backstories: Rob lives in Carson City, Mike almost crashed his car out at the Space Mountain gravel pit, some people had a crush on Sharon.

So when the class of 1980 started planning their 30th high school reunion, Don wanted to go. Then Don’s parents, faced with growing health problems, packed their things and moved into an assisted living center back in Atlantic. Suddenly an Iowa trip became more of a necessity than a nostalgic romp.

Coconut cream pie, the Farmers' Kitchen, Atlantic, Iowa

We booked a room at the Chestnut Charm B & B, mainly because we wanted something a little nicer than a Super 8. It turned out to be the former home of my husband’s dentist and he loved the chance to re-examine the home’s Victorian woodwork (the breakfasts were scrumptious). We ate well elsewhere too, thanks to the the Iowa Tourism Office, which told me through Twitter about the award-winning pies at The Farmer’s Kitchen. We tried peach and coconut cream, and brought cherry back to the home for Don’s parents.

Elks Lodge, Atlantic, Iowa

For those of us raised in a more urban environment, Atlantic fits into the stereotypes that many associate with rural America. Yes, the air of the surrounding farms smells of manure. Yes, many shops on Main Street have been shuttered by a Wal-Mart opened on the outskirts of town.

But such reflexive dismissal ignores the real stories behind the empty facades. While many of Don’s classmates had also moved away, some of them stayed, becoming the next generation of small town leaders and farmers. It can be comforting to raise your children in neighborhoods and schools where you’ve known their parents for your entire life. And there’s a certain beauty to Iowa’s rolling hills, particularly when a full moon rises behind a barn.

KJAN, Atlantic, Iowa

I learned more about my husband in a few days in Atlantic than I did over many hours in more exotic locales. We toured the home where he was born and the home where he grew up and the radio station that served as a home away from  home. I saw Buck Hill where he went sledding during cold Iowa snowfalls. I visited the Hy-Vee where he bagged groceries during high school. I discovered that he had been named senior breakfast queen on a write-in vote.

And I found out that those formative years in Atlantic turned him into the person that he is now. His small town upbringing means that he approaches people with a more open heart and less skepticism than I do.  He’s not as hung up on career labels and university affiliations and the other signifiers that were forced into my consciousness early. Hanging around the radio station exposed him to the music that inspired him to move further afield.

Visiting his personal touchstones  helped me better understand and appreciate our differences. While you can’t go home again, it’s often illuminating to revisit where the journey began.

| Chris Gray Faust is a veteran journalist, travel expert, social media butterfly - and editrix of this site. Like what you read? Check out her writing, editing and social media services.

{ 34 comments… read them below or add one }

Laura Bly July 27, 2010 at 7:38 am

What a beautifully written post, Chris! Hope you and that handsome, open-hearted husband of yours are sipping espressos in Seattle together soon 🙂

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Chris July 28, 2010 at 2:11 am

He’s coming out in October – can’t wait!

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Jessica July 27, 2010 at 9:28 am

Glad to hear you had a nice visit to Atlantic. And that you enjoyed some delicious pie!

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Chris July 28, 2010 at 2:10 am

Thanks for the rec! It was worth the stop.

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Naila July 27, 2010 at 4:48 pm

A really sweet, thoughtful post — also made me hungry for some pie!

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Chris July 28, 2010 at 2:10 am

Aw, thanks Nai!

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Jody July 27, 2010 at 5:03 pm

I know that I told you I grew up not far from Atlantic. I, too, could not wait to run far from my rural upbringing – and far from Iowa. But I found out 10 years later that Iowa is a place you return to when you are ready to settle down. I haven’t regretted returning to my home state and have, in fact, learned to love the small towns and the uniqueness that is truly Midwestern. While my feet may wander it’s always a comfort to return home.

I’m glad you ventured to Iowa- and pleased to see such kind words for an often overlooked state.

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Chris July 28, 2010 at 2:10 am

Jody – People often don’t appreciate their roots until they are older. Sounds like Iowa is a great homebase for you! Next time we’re in Atlantic, maybe we can meet up.

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Ada July 27, 2010 at 10:45 pm

You couldn’t have said it better! I’m a California girl, but I love that my man is from Atlantic, IA.

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Chris July 28, 2010 at 2:09 am

It’s like they are diamonds in the rough, isn’t it? Great meeting you, glad we connected on FB so I can see your adventures going forward (and view the Charles Barkley video again!)

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Lauri July 28, 2010 at 12:39 pm

Chris,

I loved meeting you and seeing all the classmates this weekend. Thanks for coming and sharing your blog with all of us!

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Jodi (Allen) Johnson July 28, 2010 at 1:00 pm

Chris,

So glad you enjoyed my hometown so much. I miss it dearly everyday! Your article really touched my heart. Thanks

Jodi

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Mike Nielsen July 28, 2010 at 1:45 pm

Chris,

it was nice meeting you and great to see Don again. Glad you have an enjoyable experience. See you again in a few years. 🙂

Mike

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Monte July 28, 2010 at 2:09 pm

Chris,

Nice to meet the woman behind the blogs and to see Don again. I have often compared growing up in Atlantic to a Norman Rockwell painting. You could ride your bike all over town and never worry about child predators, keys left in the car, sitting on the porch at night and shucking sweet corn and many more good memories and good friends that have made us what we are today.

Looking forward to your next adventure!

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Karl Goeken July 28, 2010 at 3:22 pm

Hi Chris,

You didn’t meet me, I could not make it back for the reunion. Don is a way cool guy. I look forward to meeting you sometime and seeing Don again.

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Dana July 28, 2010 at 4:08 pm

I got forward this from one of your husband’s classmates. My house was the Chestnut B & B. My dad was his dentist. While reading your blog it brought back soooo many wonderful memories of my childhood. I am so glad you could see how small town folks lived. I also left there for a brighter future, but after living in many large cities like Atlanta Tallahassee, etc., I have returned to the small town. Thanks for the wonderful article and a little jot down memory lane.

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Stefan Hofmeyer July 28, 2010 at 6:46 pm

Chris,

Great meeting you and Don at the B&B! We had a wonderful time at our 20 year and share many of your thoughts about Atlantic. Maybe in the future we can have a joint class reunion. Enjoy your relo out West!

Cheers,
Stefan

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Don July 28, 2010 at 8:41 pm

Hi Dana – your dad was also our scout leader… Troop 54. Say hi to him for me when you get the chance.

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Michaelle (Moore) Peterson July 28, 2010 at 9:27 pm

I love seeing all your blogs and the exciting places you both visit but it really is nice to visit HOME..I don’t think I really thought about how lucky I was growing up in IA and living so close to where my roots are till I read you letter. Funny how what we ( I ) take for granted seems magical to others. Glad you enjoyed your time in Atlantic

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Lori Parrott Skupa July 28, 2010 at 9:51 pm

It was so nice to meet the woman behind the blogs! It was also great to see Don again and meet you. Don and I were “Washington Washtubs” (Where we went to grade school) He can fill you on what the other 2 grade schools were called! @@ LOL Thanks for blogging your last adventure 🙂

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Sharon Williams Nielsen July 28, 2010 at 9:57 pm

Chris,

What a wonderful write up! Meeting you and seeing Don again was a highlight of the weekend. I love Chris Around the World but I wish you both well in your new journey West. I hope to see you both again soon.

Sharon

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Shawn Rourick July 28, 2010 at 10:06 pm

Chris it was nice to meet you. You and Don publish so many impressive photos and interesting stories. See you in a few years.

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Chris July 29, 2010 at 10:03 am

Thanks for all the lovely comments! Story is on the Huffington Post this morning: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/chris-gray-faust/hometown-honey-a-visit-to_b_663120.html

Shawn, Sharon, Lori, Monte, Lauri, Mike – It was so great meeting you all this past weekend. We’ll be back in Atlantic more frequently now that Don’s parents are there, so maybe we’ll see you before the 40th reunion rolls around.

Dana, that’s so great that you found the article. What a beautiful house you grew up in! We’ll probably stay there again next time we’re in town.

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Bill Faust July 29, 2010 at 5:40 pm

He never mentioned the senior breakfast queen award.

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L Buck July 29, 2010 at 11:02 pm

Glad you got to see the hill, we sure did always have a good time there as kids. Growing up in the A town was certainly formative, a solid foundation upon which to build.

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Matt August 1, 2010 at 11:20 pm

I can’t tell you how shocked and excited I was to see Atlantic, Iowa, and our emblematic Coca Cola sign on the Huffington Post today. This post brought me back to my beloved hometown – all the way from Queenstown, New Zealand.

I’m glad (though not surprised) you enjoyed your trip to Atlantic. It’s certainly a town and a state that has shaped me – and many others who grow up there.

I miss it strangely everyday. Even though my travels have taken me to some pretty fantastic places, I’ll always hold a special place for Iowa in my heart.

I gave you a follow on Twitter and look forward to seeing you around more often!

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Chris August 4, 2010 at 1:33 am

Matt – I love your comment, especially this: “Even though my travels have taken me to some pretty fantastic places, I’ll always hold a special place for Iowa in my heart.” I think everyone has a soft spot for their hometown, no matter how far away they may roam. I’m glad that we’ve connected here and on Twitter.

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Sherry Ott August 7, 2010 at 7:37 am

I love it when people cover small towns in America! For the first 30 years of my life I lived in 4 different states that all bordered Iowa, but never actually lived IN Iowa! Needless to say – I spent a lot of time driving through it every which way! Lovely piece, thanks for sharing Atlantic, Iowa.
Sherry

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Dennis Sheil August 10, 2010 at 2:24 pm

Chris, thank you for this fantastic flashback about my hometown.

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Chris August 23, 2010 at 4:16 pm

Thanks for the post, glad you let us share this experience with you. I recently took my girlfriend to visit my hometown and it was fun to show her around, where I use to hang out, what I use to do. Granted my town has grown quite a bit from when I was a kid, but it’s over all character is still there. It’s fun to see your perspective on visiting your husband’s town as it gives me insight as to how my girlfriend was viewing the experience. 🙂

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Chris August 24, 2010 at 10:14 am

Chris – Thanks for stopping by. I loved that trip to Iowa almost as much as I enjoyed many of our trips to the Caribbean, mainly because it was so personal and gave me great insights into what made my husband who he is. I’m sure your girlfriend felt the same way!

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Donna September 26, 2010 at 12:04 pm

Having grown up in Atlantic and now live in Boulder, Colorado I truly appreciate your article. It was a wonderful town to spend my youth and still maintain friendships 50+ years later.

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Chelle Koster Walton April 28, 2011 at 5:18 am

Hey Chris, as another Iowan-born, curious where Atlantic is and where in IA your next trip will take you. Nice post! Nice site! (The first I’ve had time to visit and subscribe.) See you in NZ.

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Don Faust April 28, 2011 at 9:45 am

Chelle – Atlantic is in SW Iowa, about 60 miles due east of Omaha, NE on Hwy 6. It is the county seat of Cass County, and not far from “The Bridges of Madison County”.

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