I live in Minnesota which boasts one major metropolitan area, comprised of many geographically proximal cities. For the rest of us, we live in what is referred to as “out-state” where the numbers of churches and bars are typically equal and where elevators are not what people ride in to go to another floor. According to 2012 census data, 5.379 million people live in the Land of 10,000 Lakes and just shy of 3 million of those live in the “Twin Cities”. For the rest of us not living in the major metro, we are often made to feel . . . well, like chump change.
This phenomenon even happens within my own family. More than once I have heard, “Why would we want to go to there?” I have decided that is their loss, not mine as I find these small hamlets some of the best places on earth. But what those “big city” kids don’t know is how deep a little hometown pride can run.
While others might think of us as small beans, we are proud to call our corner of the world – home. We know our neighbors, their kids, and even their pets by name. Heck, we even know whose crockpot is whose at the church dinners. We watch out for each other’s houses, gather for coffee on a regular basis, share garden produce, complain about the weather and the roads, sometimes both at the same time, and create our own fun. As for that garden produce, I’m not sure if loading someone’s car with extra squashes from overly abundant zucchini vines counts as fun, or just plain shameful.
We celebrate where we are today and the places of our ancestral homes. We know the origins of the first settlers in every town and village. We can be Irish or Norwegian and still celebrate the joy of aebleskivers with the Danes, tickle our taste buds with polska kielbasa with Poles, or enjoy the meatball supper with the Swedes. Vestiges remain of the divisions along denominational lines, but as time will do, the focus on our faith differences have seemed to lessen as the years passed on.
While those things are all fine and dandy, nothing compares to the heart and soul of small town living in America where we take care of our own. Few things bring us closer than two that are disparately different – tragedy and sports.
I will never forget the words of the Red Cross worker who finally tracked us down in the hospital the night of the bus crash while our son was undergoing surgeries. “As soon as I heard where you were from, I knew every crockpot in Cottonwood would be on tomorrow.”
More prophetic words have never been spoken. That’s what we do when the going gets tough: we feed each other – not just our physical bodies, but also our spirits. We cry, we laugh, we hug, and together, we pick up the pieces. And when the crockpots are quietly simmering away, we crank up the ovens and we bake. We watch legions of little old men dutifully carry Tupperware containers of baked goods to churches and schools. In our case, it was thousands of cupcakes made with love by friends and strangers.
Over the weekend, we have learned of deaths of young men in two different small towns close to us. For those who walked the journey with us, we remembered the horror of our own losses, how it shook us to our core, and we reached out. We prayed, we offered help as others did for us, and we told them the one thing they most desperately needed to hear – you will make it through. It won’t be easy, but you will survive because that is what will bring honor to lives gone much too soon. Most importantly, we promised (and we meant it), your children’s lives will not be forgotten.
Out here in out-state, our children are the best product we produce. They are the ones that keep the small town hopes and dreams alive. Quite literally, they are our future. No matter what town you hang your hat, it hurts us all when we lose one, and we mourn missing out on how they would have impacted the world.
Because they are the best we have to the offer, their activities are the ties that bind the fabric of our lives. We cheer, we congratulate, we give pats on the back, and we smile when we say, “We’ll get ‘em next time” because we sincerely believe they will. Even though we watched every minute of the game as well the pre- and post-game festivities, we can’t wait to open the local paper (whether it comes out each day or as in most cases, on Wednesdays only). We read about the amazing pass and touchdown run or the incredible buzzer beater shot. Then in every gathering spot, that moment is replayed – countless times. Those are the glory days!
Of course, we have our favorite teams and colors to root behind, but even those lines can blur together on occasion. Don’t get me wrong! If you were to ask a local about their favorite team, a common response would be, “I cheer for the (insert local team) and for anybody playing our number one rival.” “Be True to Your School” isn’t just a Beach Boys song around these parts. It is our battle cry, our marching orders until . . . our children get knocked out of the playoffs and the season comes to an end.
This is where the allegiances reshape and temporary alliances form based on general common sense. We cheer for whatever team are the opponents of who knocked our kids out of the tournament, and then when one victor emerges, we cheer them on. There are some basic loopholes we agree to accept: cheering on a co-worker’s child, rooting for the team whose coach lost their child, and supporting your own children’s friends no matter what school they attend. It’s true what they say about sports and crazy parents, but the corollary is also true. Crazy sports fans produce amazing relationships. Our children have formed lifelong friendships (and by extension so, too, do the parents) through various activities.
One universal truth appears in the unwritten code among all of us out here in the forgotten fields and dusty small towns. No matter what – if our children or any neighboring town’s children make it to the “dance”, we will cheer like crazy and wish them the best. Collectively our hearts break when it doesn’t end the way we wanted.
I am not a betting girl, but if I were, I would put my money down on the kids who come from the towns that may, or may not, have a stoplight; the same towns that close up shop for the state tournament because it matters that much. I would wager that all their parents will be just fine too – whether facing hardship or glory.
We are spirited. We are resilient. We remember what matters.
We are small town, but never small in heart and soul.
We take care of our own.
That, my friends, is a blessing beyond measure.