Tag Archives: Younkers Tea Room

On seeing Des Moines in a new light

Travel: When you venture beyond the routine, beyond the everyday, you find yourself, right? I long believed that concept, upholding the plane ticket the ultimate symbol and source of discovery.

Des MoinesYet here I am, rooted for a good, long while. I live in Des Moines by choice, and I love it. But for a long time — too long, really — I wondered how I could “find myself” in my familiar world. The same web of skywalks I weave every morning, stopping in the same spot to snap a quick photo of the blinding light, swearing it looks a little different, a little hipper than the last time my iPhone lens gave it the limelight.

In familiarity, though, there is subtlety. Beautiful subtlety. Like the minute shifts in the shadows of my morning photo op.

This city charms me in subtler ways these days. The height of 801 Grand no longer dizzies me as it did during those magical, maze-worthy childhood waltzes through the skywalk to the most glamorous place on Earth: the Younkers Tea Room, of course (well before I realized my love of tea).

At 22, I’m captivated by the bright light of the Financial Center, racing to my window every evening to enjoy the color. I’m captivated by the community-oriented nonprofit work in the city, including that of my own wonderful workplace at the Science Center of Iowa. I’m captivated by the ornate, whirling staircases at the Law Library at the Capitol.

Downtown Des MoinesMy Des Moines love list includes the sensible logistics of living, too. I like that I can pay my rent. I like that a trip to my grandparents’ house in the suburbs takes only 10 minutes.

Finding myself, it seems, isn’t determined by my next plane ticket but by a lifelong commitment to pause and capture the beautiful subtlety in shifting shadows. Somewhere in the daily mosaic of skywalk shadows, I’m seeing Des Moines in a whole new light.

New places impact identity

Gray, felt walls created a maze in the top floor of the old Younkers building in downtown Des Moines. For my father, then a buyer at the department store, the cramped space and eternal din of the fax machine represented the practical: a way to make money and advance his career. For my younger sister Tara and I, they represented a trip to the top of the world.

As suit-clad bigwigs waltzed by en route to the famed Younkers Tea Room, I entered the Iowa definition of a fairy tale. Delicate crown molding and gold trim decorated the Tea Room. I can’t remember what I ordered (probably grilled cheese, given I was an even pickier eater then than I am now), but I began to realize the power of place in those childhood outings to the Younkers Tea Room.

That power felt particularly real in January, when I traveled to Turkey for J-term. I couldn’t comprehend much of the language, but I felt at once at home and in another world. New places, I realized, have a way of linking the familiar and unfamiliar in the perfect balance, forcing me to reflect on — and adapt — my identity. While the Tea Room let me try on the identity of a queen, Turkey helped me find my wanderer identity.

The power of place hit me again in March 29, when the Younkers building — and my beloved Tea Room — caught fire. Though a large portion of the iconic building burned down, I cling to the memory of the gold trim and the coveted kids’ meal toy, a miniature ceramic plate hand-painted with a pink tulip. Somewhere between the tangible memory of gold accents and doll-sized dinnerware, I realized the role of place in the never-ending creation of my identity.