by Steven Gowin
Great Uncle Skinny raised pork, lots of it; he was number one in our state three out out five years running in the early sixties.
He attended the Rotary and the Lions Club and was elected president of the Chamber of Commerce. He treasured funds and taught Sunday School at the Evangelical United Brethren Church.
He ran for US Senate in 1950 and lost but later served two terms as State Representative. He authored our liquor by the drink law so you could get a glass of wine at a hotel bar or have bourbon with your pork roast in Vic's Tally Ho.
Skinny owned five gas stations, a bowling alley, a supermarket, a motel, a café, two buffets, all those pig farms, and he served on the board of The Greater Iowa Mortgage and Insurance Company. He voted Democratic in a Republican state and county, but the community considered him a leader and a family man.
None of us knew anyone richer than Skinny. The son of a Meyer and a Wishmyer of North Jefferson Township, Madison County, he grew up in a land of covered bridges and Lutherans... Ziemans and Knipers and Kochs, all with bright blue eyes and white hair, all ambitious and open and successful.
Dad's brother and sister, blonde and hale, took after the Germans, but Dad was a McLean, his father's son, Scots Irish and dark. The McLeans contended that Mary the Queen was as good as French and that the shipwrecked Armada had left its complexion as far north as Cavan.
My grandmother held the Germans out as examples and considered my father and his father as failures. Moody and brown eyed, Dad called himself a Moor, never spoke well of the “Krauts,” and held businessmen like Skinny in disregard, They'd kiss you on the mouth and stab you in the back in a motion.
Mom worked on Locust Street in Des Moines and saw Skinny coming out of the Hotel Fort Des Moines one November afternoon with “a dolly on each arm.” She tried to duck into Yonkers' department store, but it was too late.
“How the hell you doing, Fran,” Skinny yelled when he saw her, and he made her have a drink with him and the girls. Mom said the dollies smelled cheap but were way nicer than she'd expected. She guessed that some gals would do anything to get off the farm.
In 1961, Skinny rode in a motorcade with John Fitzgerald Kennedy from Des Moines out Grand Avenue onto Highway 6 over the Chicago, Rock Island, and Pacific viaduct en route to Skinny's pig farms. Dad watched them pass from the roadside.
He couldn't tolerate a hypocrite and never understood complexity. He said that JFK went hatless but wore sunglasses and waved at him and that Skinny waved too, and that that was just like that son of a bitch Skinny... as if nothing had ever happened.