I was delighted to read Laura Carrell’s piece “The Smell of Barbeque” from The Ottumwa Courier (Tuesday, July 30, 2013). Carrell’s article described the community of Eldon as they congregated for the 7th annual Rib Cook off and Pie Contest. There is little prize money. There is no fame outside bragging rights, yet it is the community sharing in a simple tradition that makes this event successful. This isn’t Twainian Myth; it’s the essence of what’s great about living in a small town.
It also made me regretful that Ottumwa tried and failed to have an annual BBQ showdown. For reasons that seemed vague to the general public, this year was cancelled without much discussion. It vanished like smoke, and so did the weekend event that so many people looked forward to from Professional Smokers to families looking for the backyard prize. It was a weekend when the community of Ottumwa could get together and celebrate the simple pleasures of BBQ and smoked meats. I watched as families mingled with other families over fantastic food and live music.
Ottumwa wants to thrive and rise from the ashes of its past. Main Street is beyond dead, and some young people even love this town enough and have the guts to open business. The buildings are not only empty, but often historic sites looking for someone with a good idea. Perhaps Eldon gets it right: it isn’t about politics at certain times; it is about the people who live in these towns. We are not tourists, we live here. I hope someday principles can rise above personalities so that Ottumwa can be a place where jumping frogs might be a reality.