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Small town

Agriculture.com Staff 06/06/2007 @ 8:22am

In an effort to help educate my urban brethren about life in rural areas, I was asked to write an occasional article for a political Web site.

I can do that -- I'm kind of bilingual. I can explain the political repercussions of living in a county of 5,000 people 180 miles from the capitol -- and the consequential loss of any political power -- to city people. I can write about any number of issues that begin on the prairie and ultimately affect the cities. But in a larger sense, I doubt that I can ever serve as an effective conduit of real knowledge.

I thought about this on Memorial Day. Truthfully, no one does Memorial Day like a small town. The details change with the location, but some things are constant. About one third to one half of the town's population gathers in the school gym or at the cemetery. (Now, how big would the venue have to be to do that in Minneapolis, or even Woodbury?) A band plays, a speaker says a few words and at some point an old man in Legion cap stands up and reads the role of departed veterans.

All of them.

The list usually starts with Civil War vets, but sometimes with WWI. Depending on the town, you can follow families down through the generations -- WWI to WWII to Vietnam -- Swenson or McNally or Schultz and sometimes three generations of Red Thunder or Walking Deer.

In my own small town of Clinton, I know every name.

Every name. Every family.

And, of course, now that World War II veterans are dying at a rapid rate, every year there are new names, names of people I've cherished my entire life, and the tears cascade unnoticed by those around me. It can be hard to explain just what a small town is like to people who've spent their lives in five different suburbs.

After the ceremony we start visiting cemeteries. My wife and I stop at five of them, all within 20 miles, and that covers my ancestry for as long as we've been in this country. (She had a relative on the Mayflower, so we just scratch the surface of her family).

I have a number of friends who not only need a map to find their grandparent's graves in the massive cemetery where they are interred, but also need a map just to find the cemetery. Not me -- I can walk a direct route to every grave and probably tell a story about half the people who lay in the graves we pass along the way.

We end the day at Eidskog cemetery, five miles from our house, where I give the State of the Farm Report to my great-grandparents, Adolph and Marie Olson, who lay in a plot next to their three children who didn't survive childhood.

I am undeniably a peasant, my feet held firmly rooted in the soil, held there by the clinging vines nurtured by the blood of my dead family. I can write about it all I want, but will people who've never lived it ever understand?

I doubt it.

Copyright 2007 Brent Olson

In an effort to help educate my urban brethren about life in rural areas, I was asked to write an occasional article for a political Web site.

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