Countless thousands of young Iowans are headed back to campuses this fall where they’ll be joined by students from all over America.
Many of those Iowans are from rural areas or the state’s smallest communities. They’ll be tossed into college settings alongside classmates who have already experienced much in life, having grown up on streets of America’s largest cities.
In today’s world, the disparity of backgrounds is not as defined as it was a half-century ago. The Internet has given everyone pretty much equal footing when it comes to experience.
A half century ago, however, many of us from small town Iowa could pretty easily be made to feel inferior to one of our students who had a tale to tell about the streets of New York, Chicago or Cleveland. One of the big city kids thrown smack into our lives so many years ago was a kid I’ll call “Rich,” who grew up in Cleveland.
To all listening, Rich would tell stories about the tough streets of Cleveland, the fights he’d survived. He made us all green with envy at tales of watching the Cleveland Indians play in big Memorial Stadium and of the team, in 1954, that completely dominated the American League before losing to the New York Giants in the World Series. He boasted of watching Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra, of seeing Al Kaline play and seeing Iowan Bob Feller pitch during the final years of his Hall of Fame career.
Mostly, though, he told tales that, in the end, showed us all just how tough he was; how tough he had to be to survive growing up in his particular part of Cleveland. Most of the time, we enjoyed his tales, even though he had a way of telling things that seemed more geared to making us look “small town” than he needed.
After weeks of hearing his tales, though, they began to become tiring. It was time for action.
My dad, sage that he was, told me that if someone got too “uppity,” then the best thing you could do was take him on a snipe hunt. He explained to me that, while a snipe is a bird, a snipe hunt is a just a way to get someone going on a so-called wild-goose chase. You could really sucker someone in, if you played it right.
Remembering my dad’s advice and growing ever more tired of Rich’s stories, which seemed increasingly far-fetched, I approached Bob with the idea of taking Rich on a snipe hunt. After I explained it, Bob thought it was a good idea, as well. Now, we had to get this man-of-the-world, suave, sophisticated big-city kid to bite.
Not long afterward, Bob and I were sitting at a table. Rich was nearby and we knew could hear everything we said.
“I heard the snipes are running out in East Woods,” I said to Bob. “Well, I heard that, too,” he said.
With that we began talking about heading out to the woods that evening where it was just right for a snipe hunt. Fallen leaves covered the ground and cracked as you walked.
“What’s a snipe hunt?” Rich asked. Voila.
We had him. We would show this big-city kid that those of us who’d never seen Major League baseball, never been in a street fight, had never done many things we imagined Rich and guys like him had already experienced. With that we made plans. Rich would join us after dark in East Woods and we’d soon have enough “snipe” for a good meal – the best, we promised, Rich would ever experience.
Under the cover of darkness we found short sticks and made sure Rich had one just the right size.
I began rustling leaves with my stick around the base of a tree.
“There’s one,” I yelled, swinging my stick through the leaves as I ran away from the base of the tree.
“Here’s one over here, too,” my buddy Bob said.
“Did you see it?” I asked Rich.
“Yeah, I did,” he said. “There’s another one right by this tree!”
For about 20 minutes, or so, we had Rich scrambling from tree to tree in search of snipe. It was all Bob and I could do to keep from bursting out laughing. But, finally, we could keep quiet no longer and told Rich that he’d been had, small town style.
I’m sure he was a little angry with us, but he was also embarrassed to learn that he, too, could be naïve, that he wasn’t the man of the world he’d thought that he was.
Bob and I never told anyone that’s we’d pulled a prank on Rich and he sure didn’t either. We all knew that we’d won this battle.
Every fall as kids from Iowa’s smallest towns head off to colleges right alongside kids from the biggest cities, I wonder if “snipe hunts” of any kind are being held.
And, I wonder, wherever he is, if Rich ever thinks about the snipe hunt a couple of “hicks” took him on a half century ago.