Through no fault of my own, I moved to and lived in Sioux City, Iowa, for a little more than three years.
My husband, Jeff, was hired right out of law school, and worked as a Human Resources Director for the school district of Sioux City. I soon found an excellent job working as an adjunct English and Language Arts professor for Western Iowa Tech Community College.
Sioux City is located in northwest Iowa, near the confluence of the Big Sioux River (with South Dakota to the west across the river) and the Missouri River (with Nebraska to the south across the river). It’s a relatively small town, Iowa’s fourth largest, but it boasts one Catholic university and one Methodist college, and, of course, Western Iowa Tech, a non-religious, two year college where everyone sent their kids to get Associates degrees and to get college pre-requisites out of the way — for much cheaper than at a State University or private college. WIT was so large for a community college, that it had its own dormitories. One of the things I’ve always admired about Iowa was that a great deal of small towns had at least one college or university.
I loved teaching at WIT (as I was part-time faculty, I called myself a half-WIT). Baddumbum! My boss was a totally chill dude, and hands-off, letting me run my classroom and relate to my students in the way I wanted to teach. I would hand him my syllabus at the beginning of the year and that would be that. He never once sat in on my classes, trusting me to do my job. I also adored my co-workers, one of whom, Lisa Tritz, became a very good friend.
When we first moved to Sioux City, we lived in an apartment in an old building, overlooking much of the town — The Grandview Apartments, near Grandview Park. In May, this was a gorgeous view, of lush green trees and blooming flowers in parks. The nearby Grandview Park featured a sloping hill that formed an amphitheatre, and a big bandstand, which looked like a miniature version of The Hollywood Bowl — in the summer, we would go to free classical and jazz concerts — we actually saw Tito Puente and the Blackout All-Stars band. And after these concerts, at dusk, we watched the bats fly overhead from under the eaves of the bandstand as they headed out to eat moths and mosquitos hovering above the rose garden.
Our fourth-floor apartment (the top floor) was incredible (at least it appeared so). It had an open floor plan, so other than the bedroom and the terrazzo-tiled bathroom (with a ball and claw tub), there were no doors, one room flowed into the next, with just an arch between the living room into the kitchen. Sure, the radiators and the steam pipes were knocking loudly when they were warming up (and clanging, rattling, and hissing). And there was very little pressure in the toilet, so sometimes we had to flush twice (and we kept a gallon of water nearby for extra flushing power). And the elevator had that charming 1930s double door (an iron sliding grill, then the actual door) with big brass buttons that you had to jam with a finger to choose your floor. The top floor meant a great view, and also meant no one was walking on top of us, and we paid $50 extra for garage so our car was frost- and snow-free in the winter and relatively cool in the summer. By this time, we had adopted a kitten, a Russian Gray mix, Asa Gray Tucker, and he loved having such a big space to roam.
We might have lived in that apartment for the rest of our time in Sioux City, even with the minor inconveniences of poor water pressure and clanging pipes, if the roof had not leaked . . . a lot. First, we noticed discoloration on the ceiling, and then it was a gently curved bubble. Then it became lower. And lower, and began to drip. We talked to the apartment managers, and they said they’ll fix it. After waiting weeks, they patched and repaired it once, but then it rained a few times, and the bubble and the leak came back. At first, we put out a bucket to catch the drip, after asking them to fix the leak again and again and again, and after no one came to fix it after two months, and the inverted bubble that used to be our ceiling was getting perilously close to our kitchen table — or where our kitchen used to stand — we just said to hell with it, removed our water bucket, and just let the slow, but almost constant drip thoroughly soak the carpeted floor below. So, we decided to end our lease, and buy a small house. About a year later, two of my students at WIT, brothers, had actually rented that same apartment, and when I inquired about the ceiling, they told me it still leaked.
After 9 months in Sioux City, we knew the city enough to know that we wanted to live in the Morningside neighborhood, for one primary reason. There is a large meat-packing plant in Sioux City, Iowa, and when the wind was from the “wrong” direction, the town stunk like rancid Spam. It is a well-known fact among Iowegians that Sioux City generally smells terrible, inspiring nicknames like Sewer City and Sux City. However, the Morningside neighborhood was a little more uphill, a little more removed from downward wind path of the plant, and the stench was both lessened and more infrequent there. We bought a house there, and since it was only a mile from my work and we only had the one car between us, Jeff drove the car to work and I walked.
Another landmark that was uniquely Sioux City was the Castle on the Hill. It used to be Central High School, but closed many years ago. Central High was where the twins Ester Pauline Friedman and Pauline Ester Friedman went to school. Most people would know them from their published names — Dear Abby and Dear Ann, the most famous advice columnists of all time. After many years of being abandoned, it looked exactly like what it was — an old, strange castle up on the hill. There was talk of “saving The Castle,” but it never happened — at least not while we lived there.
There weren’t a great many good restaurants in Sioux City. The most well-known restaurant was Green Gables, a fixture of the community, where the clientele was mostly in their 70s and 80s, the portions were huge, fairly bland, and consisted of staples such as meatloaf, matzo ball soup, mashed potatoes and pie. When I looked up the restaurant to see if it was still in operation, I saw that they closed about 10 years ago. I am thinking that the business must have suffered after most of their loyal customers died. Of course, there was a TGIFridays and an Applebees. And a newish Mexican restaurant — with a menu that had explanations for how to pronounce the difficult Spanish words like “beenz” and “encheelada.” Let’s just say it wasn’t either authentic nor TexMex, but rather something a white grandmother thought was “Mexican enough.”
After about a year and a half in Sioux City, I got pregnant — then I had our daughter, Riva, the first and only granddaughter for either my parents or Jeff’s. I used to put her in her little perambulator, and we would go up a little hill, on a little walking path, and come out by the Sioux City Public Library. On the way back, I would cover her up against the light, pulling up the retractable cover that would shield her against the hot sun. Then Riva’s little fingers would reach out and she’d grab a hold of the cover through the middle crack. That would always make me laugh, and if I laughed, she would do it again and again. It was our own little game of peekaboo fingers.
When Riva was 15 months old, and I was six months pregnant, we decided that we wanted to move back to live near my parents, in Denver, Colorado.
So we quit our jobs, and we sold the house (funnily enough, we sold to another family with the last name of Tucker), packed up our daughter, two cats (at this point we also had a Siamese mix called Inish Joyce Tucker) and, with my father’s help and Jeff driving a huge moving truck, we moved back to Colorado. As an aside, before driving the giant U-Haul truck, Jeff did not know how to drive a stick shift. Afterwards, he was an expert.
That’s how we wound up back to where I was raised, and where Jeff and I met — back in Denver, Colorado.