"There are places I never went in Guatemala until I moved away," said my friend, Dany, while he clicked through Google Images, showing me pictures of his home country. He is not alone. Very few of us take in the wonders of our own backyards. Unless there is a house fire or a wedding, we don’t spend much time in the hotels of our hometowns. But I did. Once a month for the past year I packed a bag, rather unnecessarily. I walked two blocks down the sidewalk from where I lived to spend a few nights at the Hotel Pattee. One nice thing about being a writer is that it allows me to justify doing strange things like this. I’m sure the neighbors wondered what I was doing. "I am getting a different perspective on this town," I would have told them. They probably would have started closing their curtains and locking their doors.
The Hotel Pattee did offer me a different perspective on Perry. Some criticize that the hotel was a bit too generous in ons of wonder. From the stairway railing on the second floor of the Hotel Pattee, Gary Bowling’s painting Prairie Fields and Horizon fills your vision. The gold, harvest-stubbled field that inspired the painting is familiar. I must have driven by that field—or one like it—a thousand times. We all have. But how often have I paused in my daily commute to pull to the side of the road and just stand like this, just taking it in, just appreciating it for the art that it is? Not enough. Never enough. The Hotel Pattee offered us an opportunity to pause and appreciate what is around us. I have a difficult time convincing my friends from other parts of the country that they need to vacation—or (gulp!) move—to Iowa. Once I get them here, though, once I can take them into the fields to see lightening bugs or watch a storm roll across the horizon, once I can pick a tomato out of the garden and hand it to them to eat right there, once I introduce them to enough neighbors who offer them a cup of coffee and a fresh loaf of zucchini bread, I know I have a chance to convince them that Iowa is more than what they thought it was. Joe was visiting from Colorado. He had come to Des Moines for work but had extended his trip at my urging. As though I was a Parisian tour guide, I drove him through Perry, showing him all the porches I loved. We threw rocks in the river and listened to the frogs come out of the mud. We watched thousands of cyclists roll into town with RAGBRAI and joined their exodus out of the rain into La Poste in search of music and beer. We went to the park and watched my son join children from all over the world.
And I took Joe to the Hotel Pattee. The girl at the front desk gave me keys to the rooms where people weren’t staying that night—the Japanese room, the travel suite, the Soumas room. As he took in the hotel, Joe got quieter.
"I would never have expected this here," he marveled. Later in the week, we were at Minburn farmhouse waiting for a house concert to concert to begin. A group of us collected around a potluck harvested from summer gardens. People chatted with Joe as if he had lived here his whole life. "Iowa isn’t half-bad, eh?" I asked my friend, in classic Midwestern-understatement. "This is really beautiful," Joe said, looking out an eastern window as four generations had before him. He was right. It was really beautiful. It is. I was grateful to be reminded.
People with more economic expertise and business acumen than I have can speak of the Hotel Pattee’s importance to our local economy. Others can vouch for the role the hotel may play in securing the future of tourism in Perry. But I see the Hotel Pattee was more than a cog in the machinery of the local economy. It was a constant compliment to Iowa—and to Perry. The Hotel Pattee nudged every visitor, pointing out the small wonders in our midst. Until the hotel’s doors are unlocked again, we can honor this legacy of the Hotel Pattee. We should remember to pause and honor how lucky we are to have such beauty and art surround us every day.