The River Falls Rotary Club welcomed local author Gary Porter (center) to discuss the release of his book, Town Kid: Reflections of a Midwestern Boyhood.
The River Falls Rotary Club welcomed local author Gary Porter to discuss the release of Town Kid: Reflections of a Midwestern Boyhood.
In Town Kid, Porter uses words to create snapshots of a simpler place and time: growing up in the small town of Greenfield, Iowa, during the fifties and sixties. In each of the book’s 32 essays, Porter warmly invites readers to step into his memories. In the era before soccer camps and video games, Porter recalls how the swimming pool across the street was his second home during the dog days of summer. His town square was the equivalent of a modern-day Walmart, and the fairgrounds on the edge of town were magical. 
“My hope is that, wherever you may have lived, the words and images in this book will transport you away from this fast-paced world and back to your small town,” states Porter. Gary read to us from his essay, "Saturday on the Town Square."
He doesn't need a GPS. He just closes his eyes, and he is back at that town square. From the pool hall, which was off-limits to a kid of 13 because of the language he might hear; to the county courthouse, which housed the good, the bad and the ugly life of the town. (Marriages, births, death and divorce.)

Brush with fame lasts decades

Porter also recalled when his town became a movie set in 1969 for Norman Lear's comedy, "Cold Turkey," which starred Dick Van Dyke, among others. It was the same year that Lear's "All in the Family" was beginning its 9-year run.
He said that Greenfield was the perfect place to film a comedy about a town challenged to stop smoking for 30 days, and that it was the town square that won Norman Lear over whilst scouting locations. The stars and locals mixed well during the filming of "Cold Turkey."
Shortly after filming, the town itself took up the movie's challenge, with the mayor leading the effort and about 100 residents' participation in an effort to quit smoking for 30 days. Porter noted that his mom refused to give up her Parliaments during this time. 
Twenty years later, "The Bridges of Madison County," would be filmed nearby in Winterset, Iowa. The cast and crew of the "Cold Turkey" movie came back for a 20-year reunion in 1989 and there are plans underway for another reunion on the 50th anniversary of the filming.
In 2014, Norman Lear returned to Greenfield, and the local theater was named after him.
"We're hoping that as many who are able, will come back and visit with us," he stated.

Keeping ties with home

Porter still counts one brother and a few cousins among the town's residents.
"We get back quite a bit," he noted of the small town about one hour southwest of Des Moines. Porter was fortunate to launch his first book during his 50th class reunion at the Opera House in Greenfield. He finished the book just in time, and described it as both "nerve wracking" and "a thrill."  He noted that a classmate asked, "Should we be worried?" but chuckled and said that the book is written from the perspective of a young town kid, and isn't really a tell-all tale.
"I had an idyllic childhood, and that is reflected in the book," he said.

Porter said that the success of his writing lies in part with its ability to bring up people's own memories, whether of a time or a place. "Certain things that might not have been very monumental stay in your mind," he said.
If you missed the meeting, Gary will also be at the Hudson Library on June 4, from 6:30-7:30 pm, to visit and sign copies of his books.