When I confirmed plans to join a bookclub for a light dinner in Iowa on the way to see Natalie in St. Paul, I wasn’t expecting more than a sandwich, short discussion about The Sky Begins At Your Feet: A Memoir on Cancer, Community and Coming Home to the Body, and a sparse bedroom where Ken and I would bunk down for the night. Instead, we landed in paradise, the Iowa version of Eden in autumn, and no wonder. The home of Karen Weir and Doug Jimerson is a haven of gardens and animal life, bursting with color, blossom, three jumping but sweetly calm Irish Jack Russells, a bevy of border collies, grazing sheep in the field near horses and donkeys, and about a dozen roaming cats, most of the sturdy six-toed variety.
I soon discovered that Doug is the garden editor for Better Homes and Gardens, a magazine I’ve loved forever (who doesn’t love lush photos of gardens and meals without those pesky articles on how to lose weight juxtaposed against triple-fudge brownie recipes?). Karen is a writer and vibrant creative soul who imbues all she touches with color, texture, whimsey and depth. Together, these two are true artists of the home and garden. A gate led to raised beds of overflowing flowers and vegetables towering and expansive with purple string beans, giant red hibiscus, sprawling roses, pale violent crocus and more. Through another gate, and a water garden featured giant goldfish dart around lily pads surrounded by rocks climbing through flowers and other greenery. A weathered table and chairs, close to the backdoor of the house, was surrounded by hanging white and golden tiny lights, so fairy-like that I couldn’t help but linger later that night at the window to watch that space in the dark. A brook runs through the property along a round walk.
The book group met in an old chicken house, reborn into a dining building with soft yellow walls, long antique benches around the table, and soft lighting. There we dined on vegetable soup, fres French bread, cranberry tart, a meat tray, and various spreads, not to mention the oreos passed around as the hours unfolded. A simple discussion turned into questions about the book, how we’re doing, our collective cancer stories, tales of floor refinishing and interspersed readings I did from parts of the memoir and also from some of my poetry.
After hugging everyone multiple times goodbye, Ken and I were delighted to spend time with Karen and Doug, learning that they, like us, loved the film Babe, sharing stories of college and post-college-age kids, weather fiascos and near-misses, and places we loved. The house was as alive and artful as the gardens: a former four-square expanded out both sides, one side of the house mirrored the other, and all of the interior was furnished with antiques: an old pale green armoir from New Mexico that weighed a ton, a dozen multi-color Fiesta ware pitches on top of a cabinet, weathered tables great for putting our feet on, and comfortable deep leather chairs to sink into before we climbed the stairs to a high bed, the wood floors around us gleaming in the cloud light.
“This is my new home, and these are my new parents. Go on to St. Paul, and I’ll see you later,” I said to Ken, especially finding out about the horses, but logic and family ties took hold and led me to the car, saying goodbye to the six-toed cats and the Jimersons, the gardens around us saturated with lush and fading color on this cold overcast morning.