Dear Northwood Iowa,
My name is Tori Fees. My son, Cohle Daniel, and I relocated to Northwood three months ago. We are Des Moines, Iowa natives. Both of us were born there and my son has spent the first thirteen years of his life living on the North East side of Des Moines. I am a Registered Nurse, a child care consultant, and provider. My son just finished the eighth grade.
When I first purchased our home in Des Moines, the area we lived in was a solid blue collar neighborhood. The elementary school was brand new. It was the same neighborhood I grew up in so it was a natural choice. We had a large home that worked beautifully for a home child care and our small family of two people and two darling Teddy Bear puppies.
As time went on my neighborhood deteriorated dramatically. The tough economic times took a brutal toll on my formerly middle class neighbors. From 2008 until present, the foreclosures skyrocketed and the housing prices and conditions deteriorated.
The little bit of green space we had available became overrun by teenagers and drug abusers. I had to stop allowing my son to go to the park 500 feet away from our home because he was finding used hypodermic needles and broken glass pipes on the basketball court and playground. I couldn’t take my little babies to swing or to climb the slide because the equipment was broken and outdated.
What once was a busy children’s park became a ghost town. Small children, their parents, and child care providers were simply not safe to go there to play.
Two years ago I made a decision that I needed to move out of the East side of Des Moines. I had the fortune to have my son on the same school campus for preschool, elementary school, and middle school. It was a mere four blocks from our home.
Cohle Daniel was slated to go to high school this fall. The high school in our area was East High. East is one of the poorest performing high schools in Iowa. I knew when I purchased my home in 2001 that I would have to move before he entered ninth grade. There wasn’t a chance twelve years later that East would be the right place for him.
I listed my home in the summer of 2013 but it didn’t sell. It was impossible to compete with foreclosed homes that were flipped by investors. I relisted it in March of this year with Ted Weaver of Remax who is an amazing realtor and even better human being. As luck would have it, we got nearly a full price offer the very first showing. This left me with only two months to find our new home.
I began my search as soon as I listed the house. I didn’t dream it would sell so quickly. Once the inspections and financial things were completed by the buyer we only had a few weeks to find our next adventure.
I began searching in the suburbs and good areas of Des Moines but I couldn’t find what I wanted. My son and I talked for hours about what to do next, what he wanted the most, and what school would give him the greatest prospect of success.
Cohle Daniel wanted a small school and an outdoor life. He wanted a place where he could fit in and where the class size was small. School, however, wasn’t first on his wish list. Number one was green space. Green space with fishing to be exact.
While we were waiting on the buyers inspections and appraisals, we went house hunting in many different little towns surrounding Des Moines. It was a safe choice to be near friends and family. With each showing we were able to define what we were really after. They weren’t right but what we wanted became clearer every day.
I started to look at areas further away. I spent some of my college years in Clear Lake. I scouted the Mason City Craigslist real estate listings and the realtors up North. I found a wonderful for sale by owner prospect in a little town called Northwood Iowa and a veteran realtor named Julie Robb.
With every city I considered I researched extensively. When I did my homework on Northwood I became very excited. I read every city council meeting minutes on the city website. I poured over the census data from 2010. For a small town the offerings were varied enough to meet the basic needs of our family. A medical clinic, a full service grocery store, a veterinarian, a pharmacy, and a dentist were on the top of my priority list.
I was duly impressed with the Northwood Kensett School system and the potential housing allowances the city offered for new home owners. Moving is so darn expensive and the assistance would easily cover the move. This town might be it.
We came up to spend a weekend just three weeks before we had to move out. The Holiday Inn Express was our home base. The for sale by owner home was beautiful but was a bit more than I could manage. Julie took me on a tour of seven homes. I wasn’t finding exactly what I wanted.
When I pulled up to the last house I took one look and I knew. I had a strange peace come over me that I had never had before. It was a calm from the heavens telling me I was home. The house was a brick ranch with huge shrubs surrounding it. I had never lived in a brick house nor considered one. It wasn’t the brick that drew me to it. It was the universe telling me this was it.
The moment I stepped into the front door I was sunk. It was as beautiful on the inside as it was on the outside. It was in immaculate condition. I could tell whomever lived in the home took great care. You could see it in every room, every closet, every decorating detail. It was an original 1965 house that had never been renovated. This was the single biggest draw to me.
I found out a little bit about the owner Miss Edith Hanson before I came into the home but I knew her well when I stepped into the house. Anyone who owned a home for five decades and had such love and respect for it to keep it in such perfect condition was someone I wanted to meet. Little did I know that wish would come true.
I went back to the hotel and talked to Cohle Daniel about it. We drove back to the house and had the fortune of running into Julie showing the home to another prospective buyer. Cohle had a chance to do a quick walk through and we hiked around the neighborhood to see what we could see. What he saw was a school just four blocks away and some amazing green space four blocks the other way. For the first time in all of our house hunting, he was firm in his opinion. This one was it.
We decided to put an offer in on the house. Poor Julie Robb had to deal with our crazy excitement on a very busy weekend. She handled us with grace and with the excellence you only get from someone who is a master at her craft. She came and met us at the hotel and we did the obligatory paperwork.
Let the games begin!
I won’t say the house buying process was easy. It never is. Looking back on it, it seemed like months but it was only ten days from the time I met Julie until the time I had the keys to the house. It was a whirlwind experience but Julie Robb made it happen. I hired movers and we loaded up a daycare, two adorable and amazingly furry dogs, and the blue eyed son and headed North.
We have been here three months and are ridiculously happy. I have never lived in a small town before so I didn’t “get” the lifestyle. We are still honeymooning but I’m beginning to really understand why folks choose this size of town.
I love where we are located in the town. We are so close to the school, pool, and parks. My son has been fishing nearly every day. When I say “fishing” I mean purely that. The “catching” part of fishing hasn’t happened yet with the exception of a few frogs and baby fish. The thrill is in the chase, not the apprehension.
He’s biked all over Northwood and knows it like the back of his hand. He has met some fantastic kids and credits himself with more friends here than in the neighborhood where he spent the first thirteen years of his life. He’s joined a church group and has had numerous sleep over’s. He never suffers for a lack of fishing companions.
My neighbors in every direction have welcomed us with many front porch visits and baked goods. The warm cinnamon rolls my back neighbors delivered the second day we were here were gobbled down before they got back home. The delicious rhubarb crisp the catty corner neighbors dropped off was poached by my visiting father and his wife. I haven’t made a police report on that yet but I will.
We are just a perfect distance from the train tracks to be able to hear the trains roll on by every now and then. I love the noon siren and hearing the track and field overhead speaker on game day at the school. I feel safe by the presence of the sheriff department who routinely patrol our streets.
I enjoy the eateries in Northwood. The Mexican Restaurant Tequila’s serves up some of the finest Mexican cuisine I have ever eaten in my life. It’s fresh and oh so yummy.
We have met the Doctor and the Veterinarian. We took the girl dogs in for their annual shots and a meet and greet with their new Doctor. I informed him that my sister puppies were paws down the cutest puppers in Northwood and to note that on their chart. No offense to the current canine residents of Northwood. It would happen anywhere we went. He disagreed with me on that one but what does he know?
I sit on my front porch every day and work on my computer. I do expert witness trial work for child care injuries and death cases and am an author and contributing writer for a number of child care online sites. I’ve never HAD a front porch before so I’m loving being able to sit outside and watch and listen to the goings on in our new town.
I have seen some amazing things as I work on my porch. I see kids outside playing. In my old neighborhood this was becoming nonexistent. I have seen more kids entertaining themselves outdoors in the three months I have been here than the last three years I was in Des Moines.
I have met a few of these darling kids and their parents. My next door neighbor has a brood of grandchildren. One of them is a mighty little four year old who has most recently acquired the skill of bike riding sans training wheels. The little sweetie princess across the street from me divested her bike of its training wheels a couple of weeks before he did. I silently watched in fear for their lives as they took the first trip down the sidewalk and gave them a standing porch ovation after the inevitable first grass crash.
The little ones across the street can play play play. It’s such a blessing to see that skill hasn’t completely disappeared from American’s children. I keep thinking these outdoor kids are going to be offering up something most children can’t when they enter school and go out into the world. A childhood of play will make them stand out amongst their peers as the creativity wrought from those early outdoor years nets skills that can’t be taught or learned about by reading a book. They can make something of nothing. That’s what will set them apart from the rest.
I adore the little grandson next door. He makes me miss my former daycare kiddos. I have been plotting to steal his affections away from his GammaWinda by plying him with all sorts of treats when he comes tooling up my front sidewalk to pet and wrestle the pups. I’m going to be slick about it and tell him that the Snickers I offer are Brussels sprouts, the Reeses Peanut Butter cups are zucchini, and the Milk Duds are kale.
When he reports me to my unsuspecting neighbor she will be impressed how a near stranger can get him to eat his veggies. If you see a little mook at the check out lane in Fallgatter’s Grocery Store begging his mom for some jicama while brandishing a 3 Musketeers you will know he is the grandson of the GammaWinda.
In closing, I would like to thank the Northwood City Council for ordering this fantastic “Welcome Weather” for my son and I. I am beginning to believe we have chosen Iowa’s Camelot. I think I read in the city council meeting notes that they voted unanimously that July and August can not be too hot. If there’s a legal limit to the snow here we are going to stick around for a bit.
Just between us, I have a secret wish. I hope my son came early enough to Northwood to call it his home. I pray we are accepted and his last four years of childhood will offer him small town values, a fine education, a healthy body, and life long friends.