by Roger M. Goetz
THE CULTURE SHOCK OF MOVING TO AMES
Moving at the end of August in the year 1948 from suburban Chicago, Illinois, to Ames, Iowa, was not as much of a cultural shock to my parents as one might think. To be sure, after living for the previous eight years in the affluent Village of Glen Ellyn (which had all the amenities of the big city coupled with the atmosphere of a small town), we now lived in a rather sleepy, college town in central Iowa where my father had become a professor.
Our wonderful, new home at 822 Ash Avenue sat in the Fourth Ward of Ames, that part of the city which was strewn around the areas south and west of the Iowa State campus. The campus and our ward were separated from the rest of the city (which lay to the east) by the flood plain of Squaw Creek. Because of that separation, until I was a teenager, I knew little about the rest of Ames except for picnics at Brookside Park, shopping in downtown Ames, attending band concerts at the band shell just east of downtown followed by a treat at a nearby Maid-Rite, and going to the public library to check out wonderful children’s books to read.
Adapting to our new way of life in the Fourth Ward was not particularly difficult for my parents. Although both had grown up on a farm–Father in northwestern Illinois, Mother in southwestern Wisconsin–academia was nothing new to either of them.
Father had attended the University of Wisconsin in Madison until he could no longer afford out-of-state tuition. Having been self-supporting since the age of sixteen, he coped with the Great Depression at that point by transferring to the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. There he earned his bachelor’s, master’s, and doctor’s degrees in chemistry.
Mother had graduated in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, from the Columbia School of Nursing, which then added her to its faculty for a short time. From there she took a position at the University of Wisconsin Hospital in Madison and proceeded to earn a bachelor’s degree in English Literature. When my parents were married in 1934, she was the head of a wing of the University Hospital.
Thus, the academic world of Iowa State and its internal politics presented no significant threat to my parents.
Adapting to this new environment presented challenges to me, however. For example, I discovered that people in Ames thought I had an accent. And I did–a Chicago accent–although not as strong as some, for we didn’t live on the south side. Further, my parents didn’t have a Chicago accent for they’d lived most of their lives elsewhere. I thus listened carefully to how others talked and tried to adjust my speaking accordingly.
There was one word, however, which I absolutely refused to pronounce the way I sometimes heard it. I steadfastly avoided pronouncing the word wash as though it were warsh!
In time, I came to realize that in a college town we had people living there from all over the United States with all sorts of ways of speaking. Nevertheless, I wanted to sound like I was from Ames rather than Chicago.
Three words were particularly troubling to me.
First was the word route which could rhyme with the word boot or the word bout. I listened carefully for a couple of years and came to the conclusion that if the word route were used in a proper name (as in Route 66), it should rhyme with the word boot. Otherwise it should be pronounced to rhyme with the word bout. This created some interesting dialogue:
A friend asked, "What route [rhyming with bout] did you take to get there?"
I answered, "We took Route [rhyming with boot] 69."
Both pronunciations were used in the same dialogue without any reaction whatsoever on the part of those hearing this. After several similar conversations, I knew I had mastered that one.
This enabled me to solve the second problem: is the word creek supposed to rhyme with the word peek or the word pick? It rhymes with peek when part of a proper name and with pick when it’s not. Thus, we lived west of Squaw Creek [rhyming with peek] and we went down to wade in the creek [rhyming with pick] adjacent to the Ames Country Club, then located southwest of our home.
After I had worked out these rules for route and creek, I discussed them with my father and he agreed with my analysis.
The third problem, however, stumped me. Is the word roof supposed to rhyme with the word proof or the word woof? Dad couldn’t help me on this one. I asked a few other adults and they likewise didn’t know.
I never did find a concrete solution to this burning question, so I used both pronunciations at random. And, curiously, no one seemed to notice.
The move from Glen Ellyn to Ames was, in fact, devastating to me, as is common with young children who experience moving away from their normal, safe, home environment. Every now and then (two or three times a year), when I was having trouble coping with something, I would say vehemently, "I wish we’d never moved to Ames," then rush off to flop upon my bed and weep bitter tears at losing my childhood home and my friends. The first time, Mother, came up to find out what was wrong. After that, when I was having an episode of what she called the "Ames blues" in her diaries, my parents thankfully left me alone to grieve.
By the time we had lived in Ames for three years, I had completed my grieving process and eventually became quite glad we had moved there. From that point on, Ames had become my home town. The city motto, "You’ll like Ames," had become true for me.