Weeds: The charms of small town living
Editor’s note: Gwen Ruff is filling in for Randy Krzmarzick this week.
Sibley County now is part of the Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington metropolitan area. I thought I was heading to the country when I moved to Gibbon in December. So, I still live in a “statistical” metro area, but that’s where the similarity with “The Cities,” where I lived for 27 years, ends.
First, I don’t miss the traffic. This past school year, I had a 45-minute drive to and from St. Peter, where I worked as a reading tutor. Kind of a hike, but it was 45 minutes moving through gorgeous frosty Christmas card trees some winter days, then black velvet fields, then those same fields with little spikes of lime green corn sprouts. In Minneapolis, if it takes you 45 minutes to get somewhere, you’re staring at somebody’s rear bumper and breathing exhaust fumes. I’m not like some new acquaintances who are afraid to drive in The Cities, it just wasn’t that much fun anymore.
If I got bored with one route to St. Peter, I took another. Some days, I passed a rusty silo flanked by cupolas and lightning rods that inspired a painting accepted into the Carnegie Art Center exhibition in Mankato. More paintings will come from the compositions I planned while driving. Even the snowstorm days were interesting, weighing whether I should turn around, plow ahead or pull over and eat the candy bars in my winter survival kit. One spring afternoon, a bunch of little calves chasing around a field made me laugh out loud.
Now, I never have to wait in line at the post office. Approach the service desk with your yellow notice of a package too big for the handsome brass box in the lobby, and the postal clerk has it by the time you reach the counter because he already knows who you are. The bank women also greet you by name, then go to a filing cabinet to get your account statement, so they save on postage.
I love the coincidence that the long-time director of the Edina Art Center, who I’ve known for years because I lived and took painting classes there, has opened a beautiful antiques store across from the Gibbon post office. On one visit to town before closing on my new house, I was in the shop and assumed she was on a trip out to “The Country.” Nope, she’s out here several weekends a month tending Bad Dog Antiques.
It was interesting to watch about 10 pickups and cars driven by volunteer fire and emergency people show up within minutes after two different neighbors had medical emergencies. City emergency crews are fast too, but you really appreciate volunteers on a frigid winter evening.
Kids in Gibbon leave their bikes lying on their front lawns all night, and they’re still there in the morning. That was not common in my suburban neighborhood bounded by busy streets. And I never saw kids walking leisurely down the middle of the street flanked by others balancing on bikes just enough to keep moving. Just moving along and talking, without adults hovering.
The Gibbon Public Library is tiny, but there’s a computer lab, New York Times bestseller books and really great activities and reading programs for kids. And speaking of computers, the Apple machines in a classroom at GFW’s elementary school are a million times better than the junk at the middle school where I worked in Edina.
One of the teachers there grew up on a farm just west of Gibbon.
“What?!?!?!?! You’re moving where?” she e-mailed, but I could hear her laughing all the way up on the third floor of the building.
One of my brothers also was skeptical of a move back to a small town. We grew up in Long Prairie, a Central Minnesota town of about 3,500 people at the time.
“You didn’t exactly appreciate small town living,” he reminded me.
But back then, we were antsy teenagers who had to drive 40 miles to see a movie or an hour to buy more stylish clothes than L.P. offered. And we lived 10 miles outside of town. Stranded at home in a blizzard for a few days when we were kids, I had to read the novel “Bless the Beasts and the Children” to entertain my siblings huddled around the propane heater. Now, I can watch nearly anything on Netflix and order my funky crocheted sweaters online. Tiny towns with reliable Internet services aren’t in the middle of nowhere any more. (However, living in a town without a grocery store makes you more organized, or creative, if you’re not as organized as you thought you were.)
Most of the adults I’ve met in Gibbon like living here. I haven’t had a chance to quiz many young people to ask if, like me as a teenager, they can’t wait to get out of a small town. Historically, that’s how it’s gone: People leave rural areas to find work in the cities. In “The Cities”, I never thought to ask people why they lived there. Friends had moved from Oklahoma or Tennessee to follow husbands or to take jobs. I didn’t run with a crowd that had the luxury of living wherever they wanted just because.
A tiny town isn’t for everyone. Randy’s and my sister-in-law says she’d never move to a small town, but I consider myself fortunate. I was able to move to Gibbon just because I found the 1905 Craftsman house of my dreams with gorgeous, untouched woodwork, leaded glass built-in cabinets and beveled glass windows that was close to my sister and, of course, Randy. I’m still near my daughter and brother in The Cities, but my expenses are drastically lower, I can see billions and billions of stars while sitting on my back deck and I hadn’t driven my car for four days because you can walk from one end of Gibbon to the other in 10 minutes.
I haven’t encountered any traffic jams on Gibbon’s main street yet, either.