Paynesville Press - July 3, 2002

Community Perspective

Finding the joys of smalltown living

By Kathy Ziegler

A few months ago, Sheila Merrill wrote her perspective on moving from "the cities" to Paynesville, a perspective with which I can identify, having done the same less than two years ago.

When our realtor asked if we wanted to look at a house near Paynesville, I had a flashback to my youth when my male cousins would ask, "Do you want to live in Sauk Centre (punch in the gut) or Paynesville (bop on the head)?"

When we told our kids we bought a house here, they thought we were kidding. It does sort of sound like a name Dr. Suess would give to a place you don't want to go to!

Like Sheila, I had my first taste of what smalltown living was all about at Wally's grocery store. It was my second time grocery shopping, and my husband dropped me off and then ran a few errands and returned. As he came into the store and looked around, a man (who we later learned was Wally) said, "She's in aisle three."

When we travelled to see friends and family in the cities, we'd say we were going into town (opposite of country) for the day. We soon learned that going to town meant Paynesville, and we were going to "the cities" if we were heading down the interstate. As far as we know, St. Cloud is always just that.

Where else but here would a 61-year-old be asked to join a hockey team? This happened as I was enjoying some exercise during open skating, another amenity. Hockey is not allowed at that time, so when I observed a couple of kids doing it anyhow, almost knocking down some little girls just learning to skate, the teacher in me came out as I pointed to the posted rules and said, "If I can't use my stick, you can't either." Instead of giving me a smart answer, which some city kids might have done to an old lady they didn't know, they immediately put their puck sticks away, presuming that I probably knew their grandma.

We learned that being "fashionably late" is not the norm here. The priest doesn't wait until everyone coming to church five minutes before the appointed time are seated before he enters and starts the service. If you invite someone for dinner at 6 p.m., your husband better not rush past the door at 5:40 to jump in the shower because they may be standing at the door smiling as he streaks by with his shirt off!

One of the most pleasant discoveries we made here in Paynesville is that the medical care is top rate. We've dealt with a variety of doctors with our college-age children, ourselves, and my mother, who came to live with us at age 96. Without exception, they have all been very good experiences.

When Dr. Lindeman wrote a couple months ago describing how differently patients are treated today compared with 50 years ago, I thought of how the new innovative techniques and machines haven't really changed the one most important fact: the people who care for you here care. What a pleasant change from the clinic we'd come from, where getting through on the phone was a half-hour wait after a computer told you what your options were, and you had to plan a month in advance to get sick if you wanted to see a doctor.

Here you are asked if you have any questions and aren't made to feel you are wasting the doctor's time if you ask one. And it's easier (and faster) to get an appointment with a specialist through the outreach program than to go to St. Cloud or the Twin Cities.

One time, when I brought my mother into the hospital because she was having seizures, the doctor on call admitted her and said just by chance a neurologist was there that day and he was quite sure he'd stay longer to assess her. As they did various tests, this doctor gave the information to the specialist. At the end of the day, the neurologist came to see mom and told me she had a marvelous doctor who'd come to see him three different times about her.

He was surprised to learn that he wasn't her regular doctor!

By the next morning, another doctor on call realized the neurologist had given her too strong a medication and discontinued it without trying to contact the specialist, family, or anyone else who might have delayed getting her off it fast. Big hospitals have rules that would get in the way of a doctor doing what's best for the patient first, if it is against policy.

Mother got to know some of the staff before being a patient because the hospital has let her come in weekly for a whirlpool bath, which wouldn't be allowed in most hospitals.

It has been a very welcome change to find a hospital here with a friendly and concerned staff that also knows how to give excellent care. And they stay cheerful even when the walls are literally coming down around them!

When my mother developed pneumonia, I was pleased that the doctor on call was the tenor who sings behind me in choir. Besides giving my mother very good medical care, and respectfully addressing her as Mrs. Koppy, this busy doctor took extra time to get my siblings and I to make some hard decisions about defining what "no extraordinary means" meant in my mother's living will. Now if we ever have to make that decision, we know exactly what she wants and are in agreement ahead of time.

When my mother needed rehabilitation, I discovered another jewel in the Koronis Manor. My mother was there several times and received excellent care. A friend of mine who supervises seven nursing homes came with me to visit on one occasion and was very impressed by the cleanliness, the variety of activities, and of course the friendly atmosphere.

Later, when my sister came to be with her, we left. An aide chased us into the parking lot to ask where we'd put mom. As I explained that my sister had taken her over to 700 Stearns Place to visit someone, my friend said she was envious of such a conscientious staff. I told her that they even call me to have her talk to me if she's lonely.

It's not hard to leave her in such care, either at the Manor or at the hospital.

I've met people who come here from the cities for innovative treatments they can't get at home. But some neighbors go to the cities or at least St. Cloud rather than PAHCS, which is sort of the equivalent of the Biblical prophet not being recognized in his own country.

I'd like to share one more smalltown story: last spring a group of ladies who live on the south shore of Koronis gathered for lunch and conversation and a few laughs. Someone mentioned the flowers that had been "planted" by the carp trap bridge. Did anyone know if someone had been killed there in a boat accident or car accident, etc.? Someone thought there was a white cross with the flowers, which is not true.

My sometimes-next-door-neighbor from Iowa started laughing and explained why they were there. She'd been out walking with her four-year-old grandson last fall. He probably observed that she picks up things as she walks because when he saw some plastic flowers he wanted to pick them up and take them home.

She didn't want to bring them home and suggested that they plant them there, which he did in the tall weeds. Months later, when the snow melted and the weeds were gone, people driving by noticed the flowers and started wondering what had happened until we heard the funny story that afternoon.

I caught Sheila Merrill's eye as we laughed louder than anyone else, except maybe my next-door-neighbor!

Ziegler lives on Lake Koronis with her husband and mother.

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