The eyes of the nation have been peering at Iowa for the last month in anticipation of last night’s caucuses. For the life of me I can’t figure out why. The Iowa caucuses are basically a political beauty contest. There aren’t even any convention delegates at stake. Winning the caucus doesn’t assure a candidate of winning the presidency, or even his party’s nomination. The 2008 Republican winner in Iowa was Mike Huckabee, you might recall. Conversely, not winning doesn’t doom a candidate to defeat, either. In 1976, “undecided” outpolled Jimmy Carter and yet Carter became the 39th president of the United States.
Nonetheless, Iowa is first in the selection process and every pundit scurries off to Iowa and we, the people, get wall-to-wall coverage of what the Iowan voters are thinking.
The results were not in when this column went to press, but one thing has been ascertained over the past four weeks: Iowans know how to bundle up before going outside. It's a darn good thing, too. It gets cold as a well digger's bottom in Iowa in the winter. It was 17 degrees in Des Moines at noon yesterday and the high was expected to be a balmy 30 degrees -- which is unseasonably warm for the area.
And that's the tropical part of the state.
That's why everyone we have seen being interviewed over the past three weeks has resembled the Michelin Man. Knock them over and they will bounce back up like one of those punching bags they used to offer for sale in the Sears-Roebuck catalogue. They have on those great big jackets and scarves and toboggan hats and snow boots -- and that's just to get from the back door to the truck. The only time Southerners bundle up like that is when there is a half-inch of snow predicted and we have to run to Kroger to stock up on milk and eggs.
Truth be told, I don't even own an adequate winter coat. If it gets really cold, I will throw on my old brown leather jacket -- the one I bought at Sam's Club for about $40 a quarter of a century ago. Otherwise I just layer a lightweight jacket over a bulky sweater and I'm good to go. I don't think my children own coats either -- other than the North Face jackets they were required to purchase when they received their acceptance letters to the University of Georgia.
I don't know when we got out of the habit of wearing coats. When I was growing up, in Porterdale, my mama made sure that I had a warm coat and a sock hat and a warm pair of gloves when winter approached. Of course, that was before the days of global warming and I did have to walk several miles to school every day. Actually, it was about half a mile, but it seemed a lot further.
Two of my favorite stories about my kids feature winter coats. I had just bought my son Jackson a brand new one. I think he was probably in about the third grade and I spent a lot of time lecturing him about not leaving his coat on the playground at school -- something he was known to do. Sure enough, the very first day he wore his new coat to school I was at home watching for him to get off the school bus and when he did, he was without said garment.
I went stalking up the driveway to meet him and before he could say a word I lit into him about being so forgetful and irresponsible. When he could finally get a word in edgewise he explained that they were having a coat drive at school, for kids who couldn't afford coats. He put his new jacket in the donation box because he knew I would buy him a new one. I didn't know whether to hug him or belt him. I might have done both.
Another time our oldest child, Jamie Lee, hit a growth spurt toward the end of the winter season. She came home from school insisting that she needed a new coat, because her arms were too long for the old one. "Aha!" I thought. "Teachable moment!" I knew spring was only a couple or three weeks away and didn't want to waste money on a coat that she would have outgrown by the next winter, so instead of a new coat I bought Jamie a copy of Dolly Parton's children's book -- the one about the coat of many colors that Dolly's mother had sewn from old rags -- with love in every stitch. We even listened to the record and I had Jamie all psyched up to soldier on with her too-small garment for an entire two weeks.
That very afternoon my mother showed up at the back door with a brand new coat for her. "I noticed that the sleeves were a little short on her old one," was her explanation. Tommie Huckaby, who had probably grown up without a winter coat at all, wasn't about to let her granddaughter wear one she had outgrown.
At any rate, the folks in Iowa weathered the cold -- with or without warm jackets -- and made their political preference known last night. Personally, I feel like we are in the same boat we were in back in 1976 -- when "undecided" would have been the much better choice.
Darrell Huckaby is a local educator and author. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. For past columns, visit www.rockdalecitizen.com or www.newtoncitizen.com.