It’s the people who make small town living great

Lesley Toth
Lesley Toth

I have had several reminders this past week on why living in small-town Minnesota is preferable to living just about anywhere else on Earth.

Bock’s annual Ride For Boobies breast cancer fundraiser for the Pink Ribbon Riders that took place this past Saturday was just one. As I stood on the sidewalks crowded with people wearing pink shirts, pink bandanas, and yes — even pink bras strapped to their manly, macho bikes — I couldn’t help but think how fortunate our community is to have these large, bearded men and leather-sporting women.

I felt my chest puffing with pride as I met folks from Canada who had somehow heard about this event and joined the locals in this great cause. And the locals should be commended at making these gentlemen feel so at home; they’re making the trip an annual event.

Last week, I was also reminded of the small-town benefits as I chatted with teachers who are nearing their retirement. Although it saddens me to see some of my favorites leave Milaca Public Schools (as it also reminds me that I’m not growing any younger, either), where else do you have educators teaching generations of families? Where else does your teacher from 25 years ago remember your name?

Where else, when one of those teachers or civic leaders is taken from us all too soon, does the entire community come together and overwhelm those affected by their passing with support, guidance and a shoulder on which to cry?

Milaca has seen its share of difficulties. As the rural parts of our great state seem to live and die by the winds of agriculture, small-town Minnesota has struggled throughout the years. But only in these tight-knit communities do neighbors band together to help each other through both the good and bad.

I remember visiting a friend in Lincoln Park, Chicago, years ago who told me to ignore the pan handlers we were sure to meet on our way to dinner. As we stepped around the homeless dotting the streets, begging for spare change, I couldn’t help but wonder how people could go about their days without giving the homeless a second thought. I still carry the memory of their squalid conditions and empty stares all these years later.

But here in small-town Minnesota, we look out for each other. When one of us loses a loved one, the churches and funeral homes overflow with mourners and supporters. When one of us is forced to battle a deadly, debilitating disease, we organize a pork chop dinner or a nontraditional motorcycle run and raise thousands of dollars to help. When someone conducts a hit-and-run on a neighbor’s parked vehicle, we race out into the street and jot down the license plate number of the offender — yet another bittersweet reminder for me this week.

We see towns come together during times of extreme tragedy, such as the tornadoes that have ravaged the southern part of the country. But the true test of community is coming together for the everyday struggles and the day-to-day heartbreak that happens so much more quietly and can feel so much lonelier than a sudden act of nature.

When one of us is down, we don’t step around them and avoid eye contact. We try to pick them up. And if we can’t — we lie right down beside them until they have the strength to rise again.