One moment there’s nothing, the next moment — beautiful flowers. Magic. Which must be why the blossoms stand at the very tippy top as if suddenly sprouting out of the head of a giraffe. Straight and tall on stems that are long and ungainly, it would seem that the wind blowing across the Iowa prairie would flatten these oddities with a puff. But they are stronger than they look. Typical Iowans.
Amaryllis Belladonna is their official name.
“They’re called Naked Ladies,” says my wife.
And everyone does call them Naked Ladies. “Naked” because of the lack of leaves, and “Lady” because Belladonna means beautiful lady in Italian.
They are stunning summer beauties.
Speaking of summer, this is the traditional season for fair time in Iowa. A chance for towns small and big to show off their prize animals, their death-defying carnival rides, and their latest deep-fried creations. It is generally hot and crowded and smelling of straw and large animals and the fried breading of corn dogs. A treat for young and old — at least before the fairs were shut down because of the pandemic.
But I remember working for my cousin for several summers selling footlong hotdogs on a circuit that took us around fairs in Iowa and into Wisconsin. A great time. We would generally dismantle the stand in one small town and drive into the late night to the next celebration, where we would set up, sell footlongs, and tear down again.
By the way, I was a total pretender of a carny. The real carnies were tough, hard-working and no-nonsense. I was not tough. If a fight broke out, I would cheer from the distant sidelines, encouraging the real carnies, who had hands like chewed knucklebones, to show the townies what’s what. My hands looked like I had just removed my white gloves to pick up the small biscuit meant to be served with tea.
Yup, a poser.
But I was a champion eater of church pie. Being raised a Catholic, I was particularly fond of the Methodists’ food tents. The Methodists seemed to have no concerns about keeping someone out of heaven. How do I know? Well, they served peach pie the size of dinner plates with melting ice cream hiding the top crust. One bite, and it was if I had died and gone to — you guessed it — heaven. It was a golden ticket into the rapture.
Really, carnivals have always fascinated me. Years earlier, as I was just discovering the wonder of women, my buddies and I once snuck into a carnival tent advertising women who apparently forgot to get totally dressed in the morning. Every carnival had such a tent back in the day. Long gone now. An old man on the stage sized us up and immediately began to pitch several special items made just for us young men. Perfect.
I bought two small dice. The pitch was that if I put the small dice into a glass of water, in a day or two, pictures of naked women would appear on the dice. No kidding. What a deal. My lucky day. This was spinning straw into gold. I readily gave the old man my lawn-mowing money.
All of us boys acted very hip and cool after leaving the tent, but when alone, I sprinted home and placed the dice in a glass of water, checking it about every 10 minutes.
A day passed, two days passed, a week passed. Nothing. No naked ladies appeared.
I decided that I must have failed to follow the instructions. Clearly I was at fault. I was way too smart to be conned.
And I eventually forgot about the dice and the naked ladies.
But today, at 66 years of age, here they are. Can you believe it? In my garden. Magic. The Naked Ladies.
I just had to wait 52 years. ♦
Joe Weeg spent 31 years bumping around this town as a prosecutor for the Polk County Attorney’s Office. Now retired, he writes about the
frequently overlooked people, places and events in Des Moines on his blog: www. joesneighborhood.com.