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What is life about but the continuous posing of the questions: what happens next, and what do we make of it when it arrives? In these highly evocative personal essays, Douglas Bauer weaves together the stories of his own and his parents’ lives, the meals they ate, the work and rewards and regrets that defined them, and the inevitable betrayal by their bodies as they aged. His collection features at its center a long and memory-rich piece seasoned with sensory descriptions of the midday dinners his mother cooked for her farmer husband and father-in-law every noon for many years. It’s this memoir in miniature that sets the table for the other stories that surround it—of love and bitterness, of hungers served and denied. Good food and marvelous meals would take on other revelatory meanings for Bauer as a young man, when he met, became lifelong friends with, and was tutored in the pleasures of an appetite for life by M. F. K. Fisher, the century’s finest writer in English on “the art of eating,” to borrow one of her titles. The unavoidable companion of the sensual joys of food and friendship is the fragility and ultimately the mortality of the body. As a teenager, Bauer courted sports injuries to impress others, sometimes with his toughness and other times with his vulnerability. And as happens to all of us, eventually his body began to show the common signs of wear—cataracts, an irregular heartbeat, an arthritic knee. That these events might mark the arc of his life became clear when his mother, a few months shy of eighty-seven, slipped on some ice and injured herself. In these clear-eyed, wry and graceful essays, Douglas Bauer presents with candor and humor the dual calendars of his own mortality and that of his aging parents, evoking the regrets and affirmations inherent in being human.
Historian Sara Egge offers critical insights into the woman suffrage movement by exploring how it emerged in small Midwestern communities—in Clay County, Iowa; Lyon County, Minnesota; and Yankton County, South Dakota. Examining this grassroots activism offers a new approach that uncovers the sophisticated ways Midwestern suffragists understood citizenship as obligation. These suffragists, mostly Yankees who migrated from the Northeast after the Civil War, participated enthusiastically in settling the region and developing communal institutions such as libraries, schools, churches, and parks. Meanwhile, as Egge’s detailed local study also shows, the efforts of the National American Women’s Suffrage Association did not always succeed in promoting the movement’s goals. Instead, it gained support among Midwesterners only when local rural women claimed the right to vote on the basis of their well-established civic roles and public service. By investigating civic responsibility, Egge reorients scholarship on woman suffrage and brings attention to the Midwest, a region overlooked by most historians of the movement. In doing so, she sheds new light onto the ways suffragists rejuvenated the cause in the twentieth century.
Julianne Couch sets out to illuminate the lives and hopes of small-town residents from nine small communities in five states in the Midwest and Great Plains: Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, and Wyoming. Residents are betting that the tide of rural population loss can't go out forever, and they're backing those bets with creatively repurposed schools, entrepreneurial innovation, and community commitment. From Bellevue, Iowa, to Centennial, Wyoming, the region's small-town residents remain both hopeful and resilient.
Atop a scenic bluff overlooking the Mississippi River and downtown Dubuque there once lay a graveyard dating to the 1830s, the earliest days of American settlement in Iowa. Though many local residents knew the property had once been a Catholic burial ground, they believed the graves had been moved to a new cemetery in the late nineteenth century in response to overcrowding and changing burial customs. But in 2007, when a developer broke ground for a new condominium complex here, the heavy machinery unearthed human bones. Clearly, some of Dubuque’s early settlers still rested there—in fact, more than anyone expected. For the next four years, staff with the Burials Program of the University of Iowa Office of the State Archaeologist excavated the site so that development could proceed. The excavation fieldwork was just the beginning. Once the digging was done each summer, skeletal biologist Robin M. Lillie and archaeologist Jennifer E. Mack still faced the enormous task of teasing out life histories from fragile bones, disintegrating artifacts, and the decaying wooden coffins the families had chosen for the deceased. Poring over scant documents and sifting through old newspapers, they pieced together the story of the cemetery and its residents, a story often surprising and poignant. Weaving together science, history, and local mythology, the tale of the Third Street Cemetery provides a fascinating glimpse into Dubuque’s early years, the hardships its settlers endured, and the difficulties they did not survive. While they worked, Lillie and Mack also grappled with the legal and ethical obligations of the living to the dead. These issues are increasingly urgent as more and more of America’s unmarked (and marked) cemeteries are removed in the name of progress. Fans of forensic crime shows and novels will find here a real-world example of what can be learned from the fragments left in time’s wake.
Examining how encounters produced by migration lead to intimacies-ranging from sexual, spiritual, and neighborly to hateful and violent, Jane Juffer considers the significant changes that have occurred in small towns following an influx of Latinos to the Midwest. Intimacy across Borders situates the story of the Dutch Reformed Church in Iowa and South Africa within a larger analysis of race, religion, and globalization. Drawing on personal narrative, ethnography, and sociopolitical critique, Juffer shows how migration to rural areas can disrupt even the most thoroughly entrenched religious beliefs and transform the schools, churches, and businesses that form the heart of small-town America. Conversely, such face-to-face encounters can also generate hatred, as illustrated in the increasing number of hate crimes against Latinos and the passage of numerous anti-immigrant ordinances. Juffer demonstrates how Latino migration to new areas of the U.S. threatens certain groups because it creates the potential for new kinds of families—mixed race, mixed legal status, and transnational—that challenge the conservative definition of community based on the racially homogeneous, coupled, citizen family.

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