Quite a few buildings of my youth are gone. Some of them are long-gone.
Franklin School, my elementary school in Council Bluffs, Iowa, is among them. In its place, a newer building carrying the same name has risen across the street from the school I remember, with its stunted gym, creaky floors and second-floor fire escape where Mr. Coziahr, the building custodian, swept the leftovers of a day of hard learning and recesses fluttering to a gravelly grave.
Gone, too, is Twin City Bowl, where I whiled away many an hour of my teen years, some of them working, many more preparing for my never-realized goal of professional pin stardom. I did, however, learn the ins and outs of handicapping horse races, every intimate detail in the life cycle of a bottle of beer, how to grill a mean cheeseburger, the embarrassing and hostile consequences of installing belts backwards on Brunswick automatic pinsetters, the potency of industrial chemicals and the wisdom of accepting only cash in payment for services rendered at a failing business enterprise.
Sad as these losses are to me, the people of Iowa suffered a greater loss this week when Breitbach’s Country Dining was leveled by fire on Monday morning. Located in the small hamlet of Balltown, Iowa, Breitbach’s was touted as Iowa’s oldest restaurant, dating back to the stagecoach days of 1852.
I’ve eaten at Breitbach’s three or four times over the years and each visit was a treat. While I found the lunch buffet food to be pretty ordinary, it was known for its homemade soups and Mile High Lemon Pie. The dining area was crammed with antiques and collectibles and each trip through the buffet line reminded me of a pot luck. I loved that.
True to its name, Balltown has a ballfield located east of the restaurant, high on a bluff that overlooks the picturesque Mississippi River valley north of Dubuque. It’s among the most scenic drives in the state.
Remembering what has been lost in our lifetimes is often an overlooked part of our histories. Without our witness, we could be depriving our heirs of vital information available nowhere else.
Larry Lehmer is founder and president of When Words Matter, a company that specializes in collecting stories and writing family stories. Check out his web site or send him an e-mail.
Flickr photo of Breitbach's Country Dining in 2000 courtesy of ISU_79.