Hardin City

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Hardin City, established (sometime in the 1800s), a sign beside the road read. Sitting behind the sign was the old Hardin City bridge slowly rotting away as weeds and grass grew around it. The locals had not wanted to see the bridge destroyed, so when a new bridge was built over the Iowa River, this bridge was brought to its current location. But, where, oh where was Hardin City? My eyes searched in vain. All I could see was the old bridge, trees, grasses, and wildflowers; not even a cemetery was in sight! So much for my thirsty fellow travelers--there was no hope of finding a pop machine or even an old well pump and dipper in a city (!?) like this. Well, well, maybe we’d have better success with Eagle City. Our friend in the passenger seat said Eagle City was only a few miles away. She instructed the driver to follow the road for a while and then turn left. Directions were followed until we saw a sign saying “Eagle City, 5 miles”--in the opposite direction! The driver made a quick U-turn and followed the signs directing us toward the city. “Don’t worry,” the driver remarked, “we’re headed to Eagle City; the sign didn’t say village or town, it said city. We’ll see all the big buildings and skyscrapers--we won’t miss it.” After seeing Hardin “City,” my fellow passengers couldn’t restrain their laughter. After a long day of hiking though, they were hoping that they could, at least, find some water. Finally, we arrived at Eagle City--no skyscrapers, only 3 houses and the only big building was an old dilapidated barn. There were also two well-maintained parks. The lower one was still closed for the winter, but the higher park was open. Finally, the most thirsty passenger spotted a water pump--without a handle! What a disappointment.

The many dwindling small towns (or “cities”) of Iowa, including Eagle City and especially Hardin City, are striking reminders of how ephemeral many of our efforts are.

Consider my great, great, great grandfather Eli Carson. All I know about him is that he was born on November 14, 1836 in Morgan Co. Indiana to Jessie and Mary Carson. He married Melissa Humphreys on October 16, 1861 in Decorah, Iowa. Enlisted in the Union army on August 21, 1863, he was mustered out on August 15, 1865 as a (2nd lieutenant?) of Company D of the 38th infantry. He had 13 children, died October 16, 1915, and was buried in Union, IA. His obituary says that he was “a man of jovial disposition and of ready wit, and his nature was such as makes and keeps friends.”
Ethel, 2 of her children, and Clair

More is known about more recent generations: Ethel Carson, my great, great grandma, lived to be 103. When she was 100, my father asked her if her life had gone by fast. She said, “When I look forward 100 years, that seems far way, but when I look back 100 years, it did go by fast.” When she was 102, my father asked her what advice she would give to a young person. She said, “Hard work never hurt anyone.” Her favorite hymn was “The Touch of His Hand on Mine:

The Touch of His Hand on Mine
Jessie B. Pounds

There are days so dark that I seek in vain
For the face of my Friend divine;
But tho’ darkness hide, He is there to guide
By the touch of His hand on mine.

There are times, when tired of the toilsome road,
That for the ways of the world I pine;
But He draws me back to the upward track
By the touch of His hand on mine.

When the way is dim, and I cannot see
Thro’ the mist of His wise design,
How my glad heart yearns and my faith returns
By the touch of His hand on mine.

In the last sad hour, as I stand alone
Where the powers of death combine,
While the dark waves roll He will guide my soul
By the touch of His hand on mine.

Chorus: Oh, the touch of His hand on mine,
Oh, the touch of His hand on mine!
There is grace and pow’r in the trying hour,
In the touch of His hand on mine.

Grandma Ethel certainly knew about trying hours. Her sons (including my great grandpa Harry Sr.) let their practical jokes go too far. They “greased the tracks” and derailed 2 trains. The railroad company sued for damages, and the family lost their farm. Shortly after, Ethel also lost her husband, Clair, when he died of heart problems at age 44. She lived the rest of her life in a tiny house in town. Grandpa Harry Sr. and the great uncles got into the habit of telling their descendants that we lost the farm because “the pigs caught cholera,” but the truth could not be hid. As the saying goes, “Be sure your sins will find you out.”

We should ask ourselves what kind of heritage we will leave behind when we die. Will we leave behind a Hardin City--nothing--will our lives be spent in vain? Will we leave behind poverty and sorrow like my great grandpa who, with his brothers, lost the family fortune and then spent the rest of his life mostly in selfishness, treacherously leaving his wife and children, and today is remembered as “a bad man”? Or will we leave behind a memory like that of Ethel Carson, who encouraged hard work and whose favorite hymn tells us that God will see us through the most trying hour with grace and power? Jesus said that whoever gives someone a glass of cold water will not lose his reward. An old friend of my family, Esther Pitts, who died in 2009 at age 109, lived in Portland back in the 1920s. A traveling preacher came to town and gave good sermons--while running up his credit at the local grocery store. Then he left town without paying his bill. Throughout the city people whispered, “Those Christians! They are all the same--hypocrites! Did you hear about that preacher? He left town without paying his grocery bill.” Esther walked down to the grocery store and paid the preacher’s bill. People could still say bad things about that preacher, but no one could say bad things about all Christians anymore. She showed many small kindnesses to many people, and these simple kindnesses will never be forgotten. When the last trumpet sounds for you, what will you leave behind? “A life of giving” like Aunt Esther? Are you utilizing the talents God has given you? Will you leave behind beautiful symphonies like Bach or Beethoven? Don’t let your life be wasted. Show a little kindness today. Use your talents to bless others. Our lives will go by quickly, even if we do live to be 100. Are you laying up your treasures in heaven, or are you building a Hardin City?


  1. I know what you mean about "finding" Eagle City". I try to get to the winery there when they have their open house (though I'm not sure how close they are to the actual city site). The first trip there was quite an adventure.

    Also, your post is a wonderful look back at contrasting lives that should cause any reader to reflect on what they're doing with their own life and how they will be remembered. Loved it!

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