By Jerry Bowen
Fly-Over-Country, IA, USA

The heat index stood at 110 on Fourth of July morning before the honor guard stepped off to start the Independence Day celebration in Exira. The small farming town in west central Iowa that grows, for just this one day, by 10,000 people who drive from all over to witness the annual festivities.

This year the theme was “Heroes.” A salute to the more than 40 volunteer and town
Jerry Bowen
fire departments from miles around that raced here last July when half of the north side of Main Street burned down. The inferno started at and destroyed Jerry’s Place, the town’s primary watering hole. Investigators know it was arson. They just haven’t revealed who they believe did it.

The four-man honor guard marched in sweaty lockstep and the fire rigs soon followed. Audubon. Atlantic. Harlan, and more. Sirens blaring to onlookers under the town square shade trees. Except for the kids. The kids hug the curb and race out to grab candy thrown from the passing parade. Fire rigs, old cars and older tractors: John Deere, Minneapolis Moline, Massey Ferguson. 

Exira Fourth of July Parade (2018)

It was a step back in time when collective memories recall that life was simpler. Less complicated. Even if it wasn’t. It seemed to me, with flags flying and the high school band wearily tooting by, a good time as any to take stock of who we are. And who we are not.

Mind you, this musing was before the disgraceful Helsinki Surrender. The summit where an American President on foreign soil failed to protect and defend our national interests and gave comfort to the enemy. A profile in courage it was not.

Still, I firmly believe America stands for many good things. Even when our President does not know or does not understand what it means to be an American.

Firstly, America does not separate children from their parents when they flee to our border to escape persecution and danger in their homelands. That is not who we are. Americans are bigger than that. We are more compassionate than that. We extend the open hand not the back of the hand. 

People who live in luxury towers isolated from the reality on the streets below may not understand that. People isolated from reality have no business deciding who should come here. Or how the rest of America should live.

America takes care of its own. I believe this. I believe that among the families benefiting from government healthcare, nutrition programs and emergency shelters are many, if not most, who would desperately rather be somewhere else making it on their own.  

I believe, I know, that among these families are young people who will escape their dire lives and emerge to be teachers, mechanics, doctors and nurses who will save others. One among them could even become President.  Imagine a President grounded in reality!  

We Americans help our own. We are stronger for this. And we are weaker, weak in character, when we turn our backs on those who need an open, helping hand.

America celebrates diversity. This I believe. It explains to me why the two most popular restaurants equidistant from our old farm house, 17 miles either direction, are both Mexican. 

Eateries that are always jammed with small town folk and farm families. Created by immigrants needing jobs and safe lives who brought a taste of home to the Midwestern palate. These newcomers have kids in local schools. They pay taxes.

These brown people with heavily accented English have resuscitated dying towns. As I wrote previously, so many have come that one local high school started a mariachi band to join the jazz, concert and marching bands. 

I believe it is better to embrace what is different than to live in fear of it. Political fear mongering to the contrary, we are all the same. With universal needs. A need for acceptance for one. And understanding for another. I want to believe we are still mostly a people who accept this idea. And celebrate this idea. One quesadilla at a time.

Finally I believe we will survive all this. Battered and bruised by political extremists using anger and fear to motivate their followers. We will make it. We are not one nation under Fox with justice for whites only and liberty and prosperity for the one percent. That is not who we are.

Exira Fourth of July Parade (2018)

We are something better. We have to be. The rest of the world really does look to us for leadership and stability. They look to us to do the right thing. So we shall. In spite of our morally compromised leaders in the swamp we know as Washington.

We are Americans. One day each year it is good to remember that. Every day each year it is vital to reaffirm it.

Next year Exira. Nothing like small town America to remind us who we are...and who we can be.


Jerry Bowen is a three-time Emmy Award-winning news correspondent now in retirement after 33 years with CBS Network News. He lives in Los Angeles but escapes regularly to commune with the coyotes and cougars on his family farm in southwest Iowa.

All opinions expressed are solely those of its author and do not reflect the opinions of Stay Thirsty Media, Inc.