A skinny young man sits in the basement of a multi-million dollar home using a big device that costs more than his car to iron bed linens, the price of which could’ve covered student loan payment for more than eight months. This is a new world for this young man. He was raised in a blue collar household where sheets were laundered at the coin-op and nothing was ever ironed.
He had started this new job just weeks before. He had seen an advertisement in the free weekly city newspaper and couldn’t believe his eyes. After spending his high school years in food service and college career in retail and then desk monkey jobs, hopping from one unfulfilling situation to slightly less unfulfilling situation, this job seemed like a dream come true. The advertisement listed the job title as household manager but the young man preferred to think of himself as a butler. As a professed homebody and Martha Stewart wannabe, the job description read like a list of the man’s favorite activities. Cooking, shopping, laundry, organizing and other household tasks for a couple in the suburbs.
The young man was also excited about the opportunity because he knew that this job – a live-in position with a healthy salary – would help him dig out of the debt that he accrued through college borrowing and sporadic employment. But the young man was also bored by his new surroundings. He had moved out of the city and to this tony suburb where he was considered “the help.” If not for the televisions in every room – including the basement, where he spent many hours toiling with an iron – he may have gone mad.
There was one television show in particular that kept the young man company during the darkest hours of that winter in the suburbs. A show set in sunny Miami, Florida, about four ride-or-die friends who had created a family for themselves.That TV show was The Golden Girls. And that skinny young man was me.
Frank Lloyd Wright really knew what he was doing when he placed corner windows in his homes. Each of the three bedrooms in our American System Built Home have corner windows like this and the effect is huge. Pushing the windows to the corners of the rooms brings in some of the most amazing light. And when you first walk into a room your eyes are drawn to the corner, to outdoors, to treetops and light.
One day last week I caught this sunset just as it was shining its brilliance through the windows in the front bedroom. I paused for a moment to think about all the previous owners who have probably had moments of reflection inspired by the house’s design.
I think back to the house’s first winter in 1918. I wonder whether Mr. and Mrs. Meier admired the sunlight streaming through the windows. I wonder whether they watched the snow fall and the windows frost and thought about how happy they were to have finally moved into their American System Built Home.
I think about the kids who have probably looked impatiently out the windows in hopes that it’ll be a snow day. I imagine them pushing one of the casement windows open and reaching out to catch a few flakes as they drifted toward earth. “See, Mom,” they might have said. “It’s really coming down out there! It’ll be a snow day for sure tomorrow.”
I imagine the teachers who inhabited the house for 30 years who might have had the same feeling about snow days. Perhaps they counted on snowstorms to deliver unplanned days off that would allow them to hole up in the warmth of the house. And maybe they would see the sun setting through the windows and, refreshed by a day of rest, would feel revived for the new day ahead.
This is our fourth winter in the house and I still find myself being inspired by its beauty. I hope whoever owns the Delbert Meier house one hundred years from now knows that it has been filled with love.
For a 100-year-old-house, the original wood casement windows in our American System System Built Home are in excellent condition. This is largely due to the fact that the house has been fortunate enough to pass from caring owner to caring owner. We learned from the grocer’s daughter, for instance, that it was her father who had carefully reglazed the windows and built the interior (storm) windows and screens. And according to a longtime neighbor, the windows were a point of pride for the teacher who owned the house for many years after the grocer sold it. The neighbor told us that the teacher spent his summer breaks tending to the house and preserving the wood windows.
We didn’t make it to the 2017 Iowa State Fair, alas, so we missed our chance to see the famous butter cow (literally, a cow sculpted out of butter) and her companion this year, a butter likeness of Laura Ingalls Wilder, in honor of the 150th anniversary of the Little House on the Prairie author’s birth. Given that this year also marks what would have been Frank Lloyd Wright’s 150th birthday, and that like Wilder he also has an Iowa connection, we wonder if he was also under consideration for this honor. After all, other buttery boys have served as milkmaids in previous years at the Fair, including a simply creamy Elvis Presley, John Wayne, and Garth Brooks.
But let us not be bitter over butter, or churn up any controversy here. Laura Ingalls Wilder was a fine and fitting choice, especially given the dairy-themed nickname her Pa famously gave her, “Half Pint.”
via USA TODAY: Sarah Pratt standing by the Laura Ingalls Wilder butter sculpture
The Iowa State Fair also brings to mind that wonderful old movie, State Fair (the 1945 version, that is), with music by Rodgers and Hammerstein. Especially this delightful little ditty in which they really spread it on thick – the butter, AND the good ol’ Iowa “corn”.
Given the house and half acre of Iowa we’re paying a mortgage on, we might slightly adjust the song’s title to read, “All We Owe, We Owe in Ioway.” But putting aside that IOU we owe IOWA, we do also owe Ioway our thanks for its brand of good wholesome fun, which of course is not just limited to state fairs and butter sculptures. After all, Iowa is home to several Frank Lloyd Wright-designed buildings, if not a Butter Frank – not yet anyway. We’ll do our best to butter up the selection committee for next year’s State Fair sculpture.
When most people think of Frank Lloyd Wright they think of his impressive roster of spectacular custom designed homes. But Wright was also an early proponent of design for the masses. While his Usonian homes might be more commonly known, Wright was dabbling in prefab as early as the nineteen-teens. By 1915 Wright had partnered with Milwaukee builder Arthur Richards to create what would come to be known as American System Built Homes. The venture was interrupted by the United States’ entry to World War I (as well as infighting between Richards and Wright) but not before a number of ASB homes were built in the midwest. How many were built? We’re not sure, actually. There are a few ASB homes that have been demolished over the years and some others that are still being discovered.