Paynesville Press - February 13, 2002

Community Perspective

Moving to a small town suits big city family

By Sheila Merrill

"Honey, grab the kids and the dog. Pack up the house. We're moving to Paynesville."

"Painsville?" Where on earth is Painsville, I wondered. Having lived in the suburbs of Minneapolis for close to 40 years, I was dragged kicking and screaming to my new home in rural Minnesota.

We moved our furniture on a Sunday, in December of 1988, in a blinding snowstorm. Attempting to maneuver up our driveway to return to the Cities, we managed to slide sideways and bury the rear end of our borrowed truck. With neither a phonebook nor an idea where to call for help, we assumed we were stranded.

Hearing the sounds of an approaching motor, we peered through the snow to see Red Schmidt atop his big red tractor, wondering if we needed any help. Little did we know that his neighborly assistance was a portent of the treasures we would experience living in smalltown Minnesota.

Not all of our introductions to smalltown living were as pleasant as Red's good deed. While registering our daughters for school, I asked about the location and time of the bus stop. In the cities, our girls caught the bus at 8:45 a.m. Imagine our surprise when the secretary informed us that the bus would arrive at 7:10 a.m.

It was also a shock to learn that living seven miles out of town there was no pizza delivery!

Never having lived in the country, the absence of street names and signs was an adjustment. I had never before been given directions that included turning at the big rock, the old combine, or the red barn.

And walking or driving the backroads is a test of arm endurance as you must wave to every passing motorist. I have yet to decipher the differences in the various forms of waving. You might receive anything from an index finger raised to a full-fledged palm and a nod. My feeling is, if you're out on these rural roadways, you must be OK.

Our daughters would ask their new friends to come over after dinner. When they arrived in the afternoon, we finally realized our error. In Paynesville, dinner is lunch, supper is dinner, and lunch happens sometime mid-morning after breakfast before dinner!

One of Michaela's friends was very distressed to learn that she had no truck, no snowmobile, nor an ATV. "What do you do?" he asked in concern.

Driving on the Tri-County Road one summer afternoon, we actually pulled over to watch a bailer throw bails in a wagon. We still laugh about how "cool" we thought it was to watch it work. Our first Town and Country Days parade was a name-that-farm-equipment extravaganza!

When we first drove through town, Michaela and Mackenzie wanted to know what a John Deere imp was. These were definitely city girls and I knew we needed some work.

After living here a few months, I was grocery shopping at Wally's G & T. While standing in the checkout line, I realized that I had no check blanks. In the city, forgetting one's checks is a major shopping faux pas. Regardless of the number of years that you have patronized a particular store, you will never be allowed to leave the establishment, with your groceries, until you have paid.

I knew Wally would let me charge my groceries but I had planned to write my check and get some extra cash to run errands. Hearing of my dilemma, Wally immediately opened the cash register and gave me the money I needed.

With my chin still resting on my chest, I drove home in amazement, to tell my husband the story. I called my family to tell them that this is why we live here.

This trust and kindness is the essence of this community. It is what allows people to leave their unlocked cars running in the winter while they make quick stops. It is the reason you can rent a rug cleaner without leaving your first-born child as a deposit.

One late afternoon, during the Christmas season, I came into town to shop. A soft snow was falling, the white lights were twinkling, and music filled the air. Everyone I met, friend or stranger, greeted me with a hello or at the very least a smile. It was like a Currier and Ives card or a scene from It's a Wonderful Life.

Corny but very true, having been injured in a car accident six months after moving here, we were amazed by the kindness of our new friends and neighbors. They cared for my children while I was in the hospital, brought meals for the family, and drove me to doctor appointments once I returned home.

We live in a community where our children are given the opportunity to thrive. Their teachers live in and participate in this community, its organizations, and its churches. In the cities, many teachers make a conscious decision not to live in the area where they work. We have always considered this one of Paynesville's best attributes.

We spent many months looking for a house in another town, closer to our place of business. When nothing was suitable, we reluctantly agreed to look in a wider radius. That decision has turned out to be one of the best choices we ever made.

Given the opportunity, I wouldn't return to the metropolitan area. I don't know if every small town has the spirit of Paynesville, but we're not taking any chances. We plan to remain here for a long, long time.

Merrill has lived on the south shore of Lake Koronis with her husband, John, for over a decade.

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