The rural inquisition / by Annette Tait

If you live rural, you know exactly what we mean. The “rural inquisition” is that friendly -- and sometimes not-so-friendly -- interrogation that occurs when someone new comes to town.

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The friendly kind is great. It’s the way we figure out what we have in common: how many kids they have, if their kids are in age ranges to hang out with our kids, what they do on the weekends, and all that good stuff. It’s finding the conversation starters that form a basis for neighborliness, and often for life-long friendships.

Then there’s the other kind of rural inquisition -- the not-so-friendly type -- that can sap the life right out of our communities. The questions that go beyond curiosity and relationship-building to fall into the “ranking” category.

With rural populations on the decline, this is something no small town or rural community can afford. The population of rural America declined by 116,000 from 2010-2014, the first period of rural population decline on record for rural America as a whole, with rural population dropping to even lower levels than during the farm crises of the 1980s. Modest upticks occurred in 2015 in counties with economies based on recreation, mining, and government, but counties supported by farming, manufacturing, or non-specialized industries continued to lose ground.

We need to do everything we can to keep life in rural America.

It’s great to celebrate the folks who founded our small towns and rural communities. And we’d be remiss to not mention the same few souls who plan events, chair committees, and volunteer for EVerything. These groups each contribute to our way of life as we know and cherish it.

But do good deeds and accomplishments only come about when certain people are involved? Are there only a few in each community who have the time, the skills, and the experience to help make where we live an even better place?

Absolutely not!

When we pigeon-hole our people -- new and existing -- into the “who’s whos,” the “us vs. them,” and the “not from heres,” we narrow our opportunities as well. Just because they’re not prominent or we don’t know them doesn’t mean they don’t have a toolbox chock-full of great ideas and the know-how to bring those ideas to life.

Okay, so the fun walk/run the town held 10 years ago didn’t work out. Instead of saying “never again” -- never say never! -- try to figure out WHY it didn’t work out. Did the organizers have great intentions but not enough know-how? Was it the wrong time -- too many other events going on, bad weather, or the community just wasn’t ready yet?

Maybe NOW is the time to try it again. Or some other fun idea. Even if it starts out small, there’s always room for growth.

“Movie Night on the Courthouse Wall” may only bring out a few families the first time. But if you choose the right movies and make sure people know about it, it could take off like wildfire, with people inviting their friends and bringing potluck dishes to share.

Bring new life to existing celebrations by adding new activities. Change things up a bit, put a fresh, fun twist on the old familiar. Keep the best, and make it better.

Invite the new folks to join in. New ideas add life and energy, and it’s true -- many hands make work lighter.

Small towns and rural communities are extended families, and we all have that occasional eccentric auntie or awkward uncle. But that’s OK. We’re all family, and we’re all in it together.