July 5, 2002
Muscatine, Iowa is known as the “Pearl of the Mississippi,” named after the large industry of pearl buttons made from mussel shells, which flourished here in the early 1900’s. There is a Pearl Button Museum, a Pearl City Station and a Pearl City Perennial Plantation. But without a doubt, the biggest pearl I found in Muscatine was a home-away-from-home by the name of Strawberry Farm Bed and Breakfast.
I’ve had good experiences before at B&Bs, usually comfortable and always unique and interesting. But rarely have I had the warm, welcoming hospitality that I received here, not only from the Reichert family, the proprietors, but from the entire town.
Arriving a few days into July, I was greeted warmly by Linda, who guided me in from across the river with superb directions over a not-so-superb cell phone connection. I was immediately offered raspberry ice tea, a welcome treat in the 97% humidity.
I had my choice of accommodations in the B&B wing of the old red brick farmhouse, as I was the only guest for the evening. Almost impossible to choose between the three beautiful rooms, I settled on The Cottage Room, decorated in soft blues and white eyelet, with an antique iron bed and an inviting sitting area in a bay window alcove.
After moving my overnight bag and laptop in from the car, I was given a tour of this remarkable house, which has been in the family since 1868. It is an intriguing building, from the first original room to the high-ceiling, rustic family room to the screened-in porch with a peaceful garden decor and swinging hammock. Sophie, a friendly, perfectly-behaved Golden Retriever, helped with the tour of the house. In addition to obediently performing tricks, Sophie had secretarial responsibilities, I was told. It was clear she took pride in her job and was just as hospitable as her human co-workers.
Not long after settling in, I was invited to attend the town’s parade the next day, along with a fireworks display over the Mississippi River after sundown. With this opportunity to take part in a small town 4th of July celebration, I arranged to stay for two nights and hunkered down for a comfortable evening. I soon fell fast asleep.
Morning found me sleep-walking, as always, in the direction of fresh-brewed coffee. Wrapping my hands around a java-filled mug with a strawberry print on the side, I tiptoed back to my room to hover over my caffeine infusion.
It was not long before the aroma of homemade baked goodies floated up the stairs, enticing me back down to a setting at the porch’s picnic table that could rival anything in either Gourmet Magazine or Martha Stewart Living. From fruit medley to assorted scones and breads to a scrumptious omelet—courtesy of Linda’s husband, Karl—it was a feast. I devoured every last bite, and then headed into town to do some exploring before the festivities began.
I took advantage of the morning to wander along Muscatine’s streets, armed only with my camera and journal. Photo opportunities surrounded me everywhere, from the historic houses overlooking the river to the barges carrying grains and other goods up the Mississippi. I spent a good hour sitting by the river, watching people, boats, a duck with ten ducklings, and other magical images of Muscatine life, and then returned to accompany my new Iowa family to celebrate the holiday.
The parade was everything a small town America parade is expected to be. Floats passed by with young princesses waving, and children marched along, throwing candy out into the crowd. Politicians running for office waved and shook hands with the townsfolk. Antique cars and tractors meandered along, followed by a marching band, baton twirlers, and a variety of equestrian units.
There was a remarkable amount of patriotic color on display, from crepe paper, balloons, and flags on cars to the sparkly red, white, and blue headgear worn by a dog, obviously proud to be an American canine.
Between parade and pyrotechnics we waited in line for popcorn, arriving at our reserved front-row seats just as the first burst of color lit up the sky. It was a spectacular display, much due to the hard work of volunteers, including Linda and Karl’s son, Nathan, who helps organize and pull off the show each July.
By day’s end I was convinced that I had met everyone who lived in Muscatine and that I, too, surely lived in this wonderful heaven-on-earth.
After a splurge back at the house on “Moose Tracks” ice cream and homemade hot fudge, I took in another night of peaceful sleep and another morning of delicious coffee, melon and berries, fresh blueberry coffee cake and banana nut bread. Instead of an Omelet a la Karl, I had Quiche a la Linda, equally delicious. I reluctantly loaded my belongings into the car, as I knew I couldn’t linger yet another day. I needed to continue west.
Checking my calendar, I was oddly surprised to find it was July 5th. Though I knew this rationally, the sense of escape I’d felt during my stay had given me the sense that I’d fallen into a different dimension of time. I made a mental note that July 4th was a great time to visit Muscatine, a perfect opportunity to step into a scene of pure American tradition. I was assured that any day of the year was a good time to visit, though the shooting of a working antique canon on the front lawn would have to substitute for the parade and fireworks.
As with many places I find on the road, it was not easy to leave. My time in Muscatine, IA, was an unexpected treat on a very long road trip. And, thanks to the top-notch hospitality of the Reichert family at Strawberry Farm Bed and Breakfast, a thoroughly enjoyable stop along the way.