At your AGE? WHY in the heck-o would YOU want to do THAT?
My step-mom, Grace Papale, recently came to Regan, N.D., for a visit. It wasn’t the first time, but it was the first time she saw the “fly-over states” from the ground. She’s a city girl through and through.
Until now. We had a relatively leisurely drive through Nevada, Idaho, Montana, and western North Dakota -- a great opportunity to get up close and personal with Mother Nature and showcase the high plains and Great Basin at a fabulous time of year.
We stopped in small towns and shopped, visited galleries, talked to locals and took plenty of photos, gambled, ate at local eateries instead of out on the highway, and even “paid it forward” in Winnemucca, Nev.. Grace was surprised at the beautiful and varied the landscape, and was equally impressed by the vibrancy of the small towns we saw along the way. (I purposely avoided the cities, opting for the rural route I love.)
Because Grace came right at the tail-end of calving and beginning of spring work, we pressed her into service -- fetching eggs, bottle feeding the calf, baking from scratch, helping to plant the garden. She even scraped the garage so I could paint it. First time ever being up close and personal with her dinner!
A week later she asked if she could move a small -- by her standards -- house onto our property and come to live. Without hesitation we said “yes.” Grace loves it here because she was included in everything, and became a part of we do day-to-day. She quickly garnered social invitations, and swore she felt better and was doing more than she ever had.
Then she called her kids. Her daughter took the news with a grain of salt and offered to help pack.
Her son was a different story. “WHY would YOU ever want to live THERE? At YOUR age? Do they even have Internet??? Seventeen MILES to a grocery store? Do you even know how far that is? What about doctors? Do they even have any nearby?”
I found this attitude amusing. Folks who’ve never been to the plains states don’t know what they’re talking about. Midwest rural is different from coastal rural --vastly different.
Why shouldn’t Grace relocate to central North Dakota? There’s no good reason not to.
So what if it’s outside of what she’s always known? Change is good. At any age.
And besides, yeah, it’s 17 miles to the grocery -- but those 17 miles are faster than seven in California traffic! And yes -- rural America has high quality healthcare, fabulous volunteer ambulance and fire services, and plenty to do. From the arts to homemaker clubs, learning new hobbies or careers, festivals and fun -- there truly isn’t a dull moment. People are genuine and your handshake is still your word. And anybody within 20 miles is a neighbor. The sense of community in a rural/small town is like no other place.
How quickly we forget our parents encouraged us to make changes at every age, pursue our dreams, and change course if we felt like it. I think before we say things like “At your age?” we ought to ask ourselves if we want our own children making those decisions for us at “that age.”
Come back Grace -- we need more “pioneers” like you!
It’s that time of year again -- time to put on our tourist glasses and take a good hard look at where we live. What are the best things about your rural town? And what do you wish would just disappear? Like mama always used to tell us, put your best foot forward!One of our nearby cities -- Washburn, N.D. -- is doing just that with “Marketing Hometown America.” It’s a community vitality process developed by three research universities -- North Dakota State University, South Dakota State University, and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln -- that serve states full of small, and often struggling, rural towns.
Everyone’s invited to take part in a step-by-step look into the pretty, the not-so-hot, and the downright ugly, then explores how what we have can be used to help us become what we want to be. And, going a bit further than the norm, it involves our children -- our future -- seeking to learn what they value and what they want their town to be.
Participating in the discussions and hearing what people had to say whet our appetites. We’re readers and researchers -- we love to learn about ways to help bring life into our small towns and rural areas, both in the long and the short run. And what we love even more is to make it happen.
We won’t lie. The process Washburn is taking won’t create change overnight. But, like a nutritionally sound diet and exercise program makes long-term weight loss and maintenance possible, well-planned and methodically executed strategies will bring lasting benefits. The proof can be seen in Neligh, a community of 1,542 in northeast Nebraska, and Kimball, population 2,425 in western Nebraska, two cities that piloted the program in 2013-2014.
But what about now? We need to get the ball rolling!
If you’re looking to pick some low-hanging fruit, one of our favorites is the Kansas Sampler. Look at eight rural cultural elements -- architecture, art, commerce (we like to call this “shopping”), cuisine, customs (aka traditions), geography, history, and people, then use what you’ve got to generate interest and encourage travelers to stop and stay a while.
Every town has at least a few of the Kansas Eight, and they don’t have to be huge, knock-your-socks off attractions -- just something people will remember with a smile.
Here are a few of our favorites, just to get you started. Any roadside kitsch at all -- painted “photo op” panels with holes for faces, funky statues, and commemorative markers; street fairs and vendors selling local produce, food, and hand-crafted items; hole-in-the-wall museums with local history on display; outdoor music and jam sessions; festivals and fairs; and places to sit down, have a snack, and take a well-deserved break from being on the road.
The key is making sure people “who aren’t from here” can find your hidden gems. Post signs -- with BIG letters -- far enough before the stop or turn so you don’t get passed up. It doesn’t matter how pretty the sign is up close, if people can’t see and read it at a distance, they won’t know to stop.
Then put on your best welcome face, and let visitors know you’re glad they stopped. Help them make great road trip memories they’ll want to return to in the future, and tell their friends and neighbors about.
Annette & Kate
If it involves small towns, rural, business or people, we write about it. Both the good and the bad. Part of our passion is helping you be the best you can be.