My vision of this city reaches far back to another time, a time that was gentler and outwardly less complex. Please don’t get the wrong impression of this small farming community, although in appearance it seemed idyllic, under the surface it was not. Some of it good, some not so good. It was what it was.
Everyone sees things differently, recollections differ widely from one person to another; mine would come from a perspective of that of a young boy from a immigrant family, one who grew up bi-lingual with a life steeped in two cultures which resulted in complex beliefs….and disbeliefs. Upon reflection even though I lived in this community, I was brought up in a entirely different world.
My grandfather, Peter Yankovich, quickly became my father figure after my parents divorced. I was 6 years old and spent my days at my grandparents home which was directly across the street while my mother worked. My grandfater owned half of the entire block upon which he had two pigs, fifty chickens, one cow, a smoke house in which to smoke the meat from the pigs, twenty-five apple trees, a vast garden, five grape harbors from which wine was produced. It was there that I met life, nurtured in a European culture whose ideals differed vastly at times with life outside of that small Balkan compound in which I spent my childhood.
It wasn’t until I turned twenty-six in 1960 that I flew into those dark mountains of Montenegro to seek the birthplace of this man I loved so much. I wanted to walk on the same paths he walked as a young boy, I wanted to bring to life this magical place that filled my mind with stories told to me as a child while sitting under the grape harbor as we shared our lunch of tomatoes picked fresh, still warm from the sun and drenched in olive oil. These were magical tales told to a young boy by his grandfather who longed terrible for the home he left behind, a place he would never again see, a place that now existed only in his mind……
To get there I took a bus from the village of the black river which was little more than a trading station where people would gather to barter produce. The bus driver was told to let me off at “the “Rock of Yankovich” which was the name of the Selo, a Selo is smaller than a village. The bus actually drove through low hanging clouds that surrounded the mountain top, it was that far up. Those living there were members of my family, we shared DNA and immediatly I was engulfed with a history of Peter Yankovich whose spirit I believed brought me there in the first place. This was a place I would return to many times through the years.
Mason City had an underbelly to it that all knew of but few acknowledged; it was racist and it held predjucies that bothered me greatly. The first thing one might think of when the word prejudice is mentioned is white against black; not necessarily true. The second being, we are far North of the Mason-Dixon Line. So why I was subjected to much the same although not all by any means, as some of my black friends? Picture this; I am standing in the kitchen of a farmhouse waiting for my date to descend from upstairs; while I am waiting the girls mother begins to question me. This is not my first visit to the farm, I had been there many times. Her first question was; Do you speak a foreign language? I answered yes. Do you eat foreign food in your home? I answered yes…but I said, “we buy the food here.” Are you Orthodox? She asked, to which I replied yes. Then you are a foreigner and I don’t want you dating my daughter. The fact that both of my parents and I were born here made no difference, however it meant I was second generation. The fact that I I spoke a language she knew nothing of and I ate garlic and olive oil decades before it became designer food for the in crowd sealed my fate with this woman, who by the way was a school teacher. This scenario was often repeated, different people…different names, same song.
In Clear Lake, Iowa there wasn’t one black individual or family living in that community until Hob Mason, the well know jazz musician moved there with his family. In fact Hob is buried there now. When the Big Bands touring the country played the Surf Ballroom, they were denied access to hotels and motels, which meant they had to stay in private homes. When you are shoveling your driveway here, do you think you’re in the deep South? People my age remember what so many born after the seventies never imagined .
Now it is the present, a new year is very close, and with it will come a new council that will govern the direction of this city, the same city I grew up in. I will predict that early into the year Bookmeyer will make a move to eliminate Brent Trout and reinstate a strong mayoral concept. His reasoning will be based upon cost savings….but it will not be the truth. He will again go after the budget of the HRC cutting it severely thereby crippling its effectiveness, the business school at NIACC will get the $150,000.00 previously denied and the handcrafted council will prostrate themselves before him as if they were in some way mentally deficient. And to those of you out there who can read, it is on your head for not voting.