Herald Journal Columns
Sept. 5, 2005, Herald Journal

Small town, Saturday night

By LIZ HELLMANN

Hailing originally from Montrose, I would not call myself a city person, but recently, I visited a couple of towns that even I would classify as small.

Saturday morning, my fiancé and I loaded up his car (I don’t think mine would have lasted the trip) and set off for an exciting drive through corn fields and soybean fields.

We were on our way to a friend’s wedding (the last of the season, so far).

It was a three-hour drive, almost down to the minute. At the end of it, we found ourselves being welcomed into the town of Walnut Grove.

The town is home to fewer than 1,000 people, but there was no danger of missing it.

A huge sign met us at the entrance of town, proudly letting us know it was the childhood home of Laura Ingalls Wilder.

The town itself seemed only slightly bigger than the sign.

There was even a Laura Ingalls Wilder museum. You would think with all the tourism draw, the town would be bigger, but it stays modest in size, not letting fame get the best of it.

Although there were no directions to the church, we were not very worried about finding it.

Finding a place to eat before the service, however, did pose a problem.

Having not eaten very much all day, we needed something to sustain us through the vows, picture taking, and social hour before dinner.

Looking at the map printed from my fiancé’s computer, which was hardly legible due to a low ink cartridge (those things are extremely expensive, especially after paying college tuition for five years), we figured the town of Tracy was not too far away.

According to the map, it was only one inch.

We decided to go for it, since we had about 40 minutes before the ceremony started.

Our main concern was not that we would get there in time, but that we would drive to Tracy, only to discover it had no restaurants, either.

To be fair, Walnut Grove did have a restaurant. I think it was aptly named “Cafe.”

But upon driving past it, we noticed several people loitering inside. Being from a small town, we knew what awaited us the second we stepped inside.

The low din of conversation would stop as we opened the door. Everyone would turn to look at this strange species that had just walked in.

Who are we? They don’t know our names, who our parents are, or who our cousins and extended family are. They have never seen us before, do not know when we lost our first tooth or broke our arm falling off the tractor.

What could we possibly want with their town?

The scene sort of reminds me of the wild. A pack of wild animals grazing in the field, lift up their heads as a new beast approaches.

For purposes of survival, the new creature is carefully studied before the pack will let their guard down once more, and return to grazing.

We would then proceed to carefully take a seat in a corner booth and the conversation would begin slowly, as everyone throws in their two cents about the summer baseball team’s chances to make it to state.

Wishing to avoid this scene, and not having enough time to wait for chicken strips to cook, we opted for heading to the next town.

Tracy is a booming metropolis in comparison, with a population well into four digits.

As we stepped into the Subway, a strange revelation hit me. I’ve been there before.

Last year, our soccer bus had stopped there to eat after a game. The building was not built by Subway, but probably just a building it bought, because the layout was a little unusual, making it memorable.

Isn’t it funny when little things like that happen? When you realize you’ve been somewhere before, or bump into someone from a long time ago?

So, does that mean life is coming full circle, or is it just a small world after all? Or are we just spinning our wheels and getting nowhere?

Anyway, after we grabbed our subs, we drove back to Walnut Grove to begin our search for the church.

Hoping to find it without having to drive down all 10 streets, we headed in the direction of the school (visible from the “main drag”).

Clever people that we are, we followed a number of people dressed in suits and ties.

The church was packed, but even more amazing was the number of people who attended the reception. There were at least 325 people.

Planning for my own wedding, it has been difficult to find reception places that seat large amounts of people in the larger suburbs. These are towns with populations more than 10,000.

But here we are, in a town of less than 700 people, with a community room with seating for probably 400.

The town did not spread farther than one mile away from the water tower, and the parking lot stopped just short of a soybean field.

But the wedding party and their guests had all they needed.

They came there to dance, celebrate with old and new friends, and wish their blessings on the bride and groom.

I can assure you, that miles away from any sort of city, let alone the Twin Cities, these people needed nothing more.

The idea of trimming a guest list to be able to afford filet mignon and a stretch limousine is a foreign concept to them.

It is in small towns like this that they live by the idea that the presence of family and friends are truly the only presents necessary, no matter what the occasion.

It was just another small town, Saturday night, with lots of love, laughs, and memories in the making.