I am Waze-ing my way through northwestern Iowa to meet Faye and her family on a sleepy, snowy Sunday. It’s 1:59pm, one minute before our scheduled meeting time, and the female voice on my navigation app proclaims that I have reached my destination. She is a big liar.
I’ve driven almost four hours to this teeny town of fewer than 400 people and no one is around. There is a feed store, a big Catholic church and a closed retail gift-y shop where I spot a sheriff in the parking lot. I pull up next to his SUV and roll down my window.
He looks at me with a blank stare. I feel a little self-conscious of my California plates.
“Hi,” I offer through my open passenger-side window.
He looks at me.
“Do you know where Oak Street is?”
“It’s probably back that way,” he says after a couple beats, waving his left arm behind him. “There are only four streets in this town. I’m sure you’ll find it.”
I find out later that several nearby towns share law enforcement officials between them, as they are too small to support them on their own. So it makes a little more sense that the sheriff didn’t know the exact location of Oak Street.
Officer Helpful was right. I turn onto Maple, pass Ash and see Oak Street.
923 Oak is the second house on the left.
I park on the street and gather my winter coat, bag and Hy-Vee flower bouquet for Faye. She is smiling behind the all-glass door as I make my way up the front porch stairs. She is petite and sporting a vibrant animal-print top over blue jeans. (Completely age-appropriate, not cougar-y.) She is adorable. I immediately want to give her a hug, but I hold back and instead shake her hand.
We fall into an easy conversation right off the bat. She has all of the ingredients and utensils laid out on her island for the cake we’re going to bake in my America cake pan. We’re using a recipe from her church cookbook called “Crazy Cake.” (Crazy because it has no eggs.) I forget that I need to be documenting our discussion – I just want to sit and chat and soak up everything about her. She walks me through the recipe and explains how she typically makes it, leaving me to my own devices. She seems like she would be the perfect mother-in-law: She doesn’t tell me how to make the cake, she just gently explains how she does it. I feel like I’m in a home economics class, and a little nervous I’m going to mess it up. She’s invited several family members to join us for supper, so this cake better be good. Game on.
She puts on coffee, and once the cake is in the oven, we prepare to sit down at the kitchen table and really chat. She shares that her coffee-group friends were shocked that she was meeting with me. (They would never.) Rosalie in particular was not a fan of this idea, and made Faye promise to call her at 3pm, an hour into our meeting. That made me smile, remembering my first 923 Oak visit in Ohio, and how my friends and family made me promise to text them by a certain time. Faye pooh-poohs the idea – she’s not calling Rosalie. “I think it’s a lot more dangerous for you, coming into random homes!” she tells me.
At that moment, Dan, the man of the house and her husband of 50 years, walks into the kitchen. He is a smidge taller than Faye, with a twinkle in his blue eyes, wearing a light blue western shirt with pearl buttons, blue jeans and a big smile. “Somebody’s in my house!” he says in a faux gruff voice. He stretches out his arms, and I CANNOT RESIST. I go in for the hug. I am already having the best time ever.