Finches, a gator, and birthday cake – Empty Nest by Curt Swarm


The finches flew before us, hundreds of them, doing their “wave” flight pattern, their gold and black colors flashing, like fireflies in the day, leading us along their primrose path to glory. We had never seen so many gold finches (Iowa’s State Bird). It had to be the habitat: tree lined river on one side of the road, fields of hay, pasture, and row crops on the other—everything the finches need—food, water and shelter in the peaceful river valley.
It was Ginnie’s birthday—she’s 68. We loaded her Gator (I gave it to her for a wedding present—ha, ha) onto the trailer, and towed it from Mt. Pleasant to Farmington in Van Buren County. From there we parked on the Des Moines River Road (Eagle Drive) for a scenic ride from Farmington, to Bonaparte, to Bentonsport and back.
I parked on the side of the road and unloaded the Gator. A man pulled up beside us in his car and asked if we were broke down. We told him no, that we were just out for a drive in Ginnie’s Gator. He advised us that we should probably not leave the truck and trailer on the side of the road, and told us we could park on his property. That was right nice of him. People are so friendly in Van Buren County.
I even let Ginnie drive, after all, it is her Gator. We had a little lunch with us and stopped at a hilltop cemetery outside of Bentonsport, or Vernon, if you will. The grave stones date back to the Civil War, and we were filled with pathos as we read names, dates and info, envisioning the human drama on display before us. Our sandwiches were warmed from the bed of the Gator, which is right over the engine—what a luxury: warm food, scenic view, peaceful feeling.
On the way home, we saw wild turkeys, and turkey vultures. It must have been bird day: gold finches, turkeys, turkey vultures, all along Eagle Drive. No, we did not see eagles. That will be for our winter trip.
We stopped at the Bridge Cafe in Farmington for coffee and a second lunch—ha! We tried something new from their appetizer menu—fried avocado. Hmm. Double lunch day!
We made it home in time for the Old Thresher’s parade in Mt. Pleasant. The high school marching band played, people threw candy, and the line of tractors—some small, some large, some old, some new, some exotic—had to have been two miles long.
In the evening we helped out with the spaghetti dinner at the Presbyterian Church. Ginnie worked in the dining area and I at the drive-up door. Close to 700 people had their fill of spaghetti, salad, Italian bread, and home made pie. Mmm, mmm! Ginnie made two of the pies, one from the apples from our own McIntosh tree. McIntosh is the national apple of Canada, you know. The spaghetti dinner was like one big party, and it was nice seeing so many people we knew and meeting new people. Everyone was in a good mood with great August weather, delicious food, and all of us looking forward to Old Thresher’s festivities.
I surprised Ginnie with a full sheet birthday cake, topped with an ATV—you go Girl! The cake was half strawberry and half chocolate. Nothing beats pie plus birthday cake! There were actually three people with birthdays, and the fellowship hall rang with the birthday song.
At this point you might think Ginnie’s birthday was all about food. You’re right!
We had no problem falling asleep that night: Gator ride in the fresh air, parade, full belly. Our heads were filled with happy images of apples, finches and tractors. Ginnie had to admit, 68 ain’t so bad. In fact, 68 is, as Tony the Tiger says, grrrreat!

Have a good story? Call or text Curt Swarm in Mt. Pleasant at 319-217-0526, email him at or visit his website at

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