Atlantic, Iowa: Far From Home


There’s no like home; there’s no place like home.

Dorothy, The Wizard of Oz

My father-in-law’s ninetieth birthday was last week,  so the family all headed to Atlantic, Iowa to  celebrate.  For us Chicago suburbanites, Atlantic is a bit like a foreign country. The town, with a population of about seven thousand, sits south of I80, about an hour from the Nebraska border, in the midst of  rolling  green farmland.

On Saturday afternoon, we were among a handful of shoppers on the nearly deserted sidewalks downtown on Chestnut Street. The best store on Chestnut is a five and dime that sells embroidery patterns, Turkish Taffy, seasonal decorations, pin cushions, kitchen gadgets, stuffed animals, Scrabble score pads,  cap guns, chiffon headscarves, and other sundries. Atlantic’s downtown also has a shoe store, a couple of women’s shops, a hardware store, and a taxidermist where furry, glass-eyed creatures gaze out in the window at passers-by.

We went to 5:30 Mass at the prettiest place in town, Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church. Sunlight streamed through the stained glass windows, and the golden statues on the altar basked in the glow. It’s cozy and conducive to worship, unlike some suburban churches that look like theaters in the round.

Atlantic restaurants are pretty casual. The HyVee was advertising a dine-in special on Friday — all-you-care-to-eat frog legs for $7.99. On Sunday night we treated ourselves to dinner at Oinkers, whose motto is “Dine like a swine.” Several family members raved about the Oinker burger– ground pork in the shape of a pig. I opted for a Philly steak sandwich — delish!


We missed AtlanticFest by one week. There’ll be a craft show, a car show, a race, and live entertainment. Sounds a lot like Naperville’s Last Fling, just on a smaller scale. In September, Atlantic, the Coca Cola Capitol of Iowa, hosts the second-largest Coca Cola collectible event in the country. (The largest is in Atlanta.) There will be a swap meet, a parade, and a tailgate party. This year’s theme is Coca Cola: Thirst Knows No Season.

Atlantic residents, my father-in-law included, find contentment in their hometown, a friendly place where traffic snarls, crowds, and crime are nearly nonexistent.  When International Harvester transferred my father-in-law to southwest Iowa about 38 years ago, he and my mother-in-law could have chosen Council Bluffs, Adair, Griswold, Ekhorn or any place in the region. With its location smack dab in the middle of the two big cities of Omaha and DesMoines, and its golf course, Atlantic ticked the boxes for them.

For the folks from Atlantic, all our suburban commotion must be a recipe for migraines. I guess I need big city diversity and the dozens of  shops, parks, restaurants, grocery stores and people that surround me. Traffic? I’ll take it.


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