Buying Into the Field of Dreams

IT seems no coincidence that after driving 2,000 miles to relocate from California to Iowa, my family and I should find ourselves four days later at the former movie site of "Field of Dreams."

Dyersville, where the house and field of the fictional Ullin family are located, is an hour and a half's drive from Iowa City, and proclaims itself in signs we pass along northeast Iowa's Norman Rockwell-like backroads as the "Home of Farm Toys."

When we stop to grab lunch and firm up directions, a waitress tells us in a tone that mingles hometown pride with puzzlement that, "The cars come from April, clear through November...." Ten minutes later, we pull our family car into a dusty dirt lot to join the dozens of others already parked there.

Looking over the panoply of rainbow-colored license plates, my husband asks softly, "Why do you suppose they come? It's not like it was `Citizen Kane.'"

I shrug, and we get out of the car and take a well-trodden path, following our two daughters, ages 10 and 19, who hurry along before us. Unlike the adults who may not have a clue as to what has propelled them to this small house in the middle of nowhere, our children have laid claim to their desires:

The oldest wants to sit and stand where Kevin Costner once was; the youngest, born and raised in the suburbs of southern California, is eager to scout a cornfield.

A moment later fields appear, then a baseball diamond, and, to the right, a farmhouse. When the latter comes into view, so does the rationale of Paramount Studio's location manager. After pouring over thousands of photographs for a home for the Ullins and traveling months across the Midwest and several provinces in Canada, he chose the Sobeletzkis a farmhouse so archetypal in its white clapboard siding, white picket fence, wrap-around porch, porch swing, and screened front door that it is every farmhouse , from O'Neill's "Desire Under the Elms" to Becky Thatcher's in "Tom Sawyer."

This is a house where freckled-faced children surely run in the fields, where the crack of a boy's bat is carried for miles on the summer breeze, where a lemonade glass sweats in the palm of a contented mother's hand, where the smell of warm sawdust wafts from a father's barn. As I watch visitors stare thoughtfully at the house, pick up a handful of ochre-colored soil, or stand quietly among tasseled rows of corn, I realize that every person over the age of 35 is beckoned by its front door, that collecti vely we long to hear it crack open, to run a palm over the kitchen table's smooth pine, to linger over the image of fresh-baked biscuits, and perhaps most urgent of all, to hear the reassuring metronome of a farmhouse clock, beating steadily, measuring the hours passed against the promise of more.

The Sobeletzkis' farm and farmhouse stand as a monument to a time and way of life that today's generation of adults longs to recreate. And my husband and I are no exception. Last summer we joined the thousands of migrating Californians who left lives in the fast lane for lives in the small towns of the North and Midwest. Like our friends, we fled rootlessness, failing schools, increasing violence, and a nimbus-like discontent that hung implacably in the sun-filled skies.

Like the plot of a David Lynch film or a Spielberg fantasy, there was something ominous and noxious seeping from the glossy surfaces of our technicolored yards and Architectural Digest homes: graffiti proliferated, car windows were repeatedly smashed, stereos stolen, and an elderly widow was beaten and robbed as she unloaded groceries in her garage. Then one day as I watched my daughter returning from school, I heard several men in dirty coveralls shout lewd invitations to her from the back of a pickup, and I surprised myself by shouting back, surprised myself at the breadth of my fury, at the impotency and insanity of my plea, yelling at them, as if it might make a difference to them, that she was only 13.

And our feeling of living under siege was only temporarily abated by our move to the Holstein-dotted hillsides and grapevine-trellised acreage of a town an hour north of San Franciso. But - even there - after six years, everything undesirable in society we had hoped to escape, eventually followed us.

Now home is here, here in Iowa, in America's heartland, near the Sobeletzkis' farm and farmhouse. The Sobeletzkis charge no admission to the field of dreams, but visitors line up to buy bags of dirt for a dollar. I don't know how the Sobeletzkis knew that if they left the film's prop bleachers standing, installed portable toilets, and built souvenir stands, that tourists would come, but come they do, traveling up the backroads like caravaning pilgrims to the promised land.

"Corn! Corn from the `Field of Dreams' for sale!" our oldest daughter calls out mockingly, a dried and broken ear in her hand. "Get your dirt and dreams for dollars!" she laughs.

Oh, yes, I think. We'll buy. We want this time and place - this endless summer and safety - on a porch just such as this one, in this Kinsella fiction, this dream-state, this Oz.

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