Jim O'Leary

Waverly Star

By Jim O'Leary

An e-mail newsletter for and about Waverly people, used with permission in the HLW Herald and on this web site.

April 29, 2002

Minnesota has been dubbed the "Land of 10,000 Lakes and 100,000 small towns."

Political commentators, in trying to explain Minnesota's proud records for voter turnout and political participation, say it's because most of the state's almost five million people come from small towns where they are used to taking part in politics.

"All politics is local" is more true in Minnesota than anywhere else. In a small town, one becomes used to taking part, not only by voting but by arguing.

Everybody knows who is running for the school board and the city council, and knows them personally. Minnesota also has a reputation for clean politics, enlightened government, civil discourse, and little mud-slinging. This is also a small town heritage, because it's really rude to sling mud at your next door neighbor.

Our town ­ Waverly, Minn.

Lynda Jensen just reported, in the April 8 issue of the Herald on the important meeting Waverly hosted for community planning.

Her headline was "Village hall overflows with residents sharing vision of future for Waverly."

The attendance was around 200, which is just amazing for a planning meeting (although they did serve a rib dinner).

They listed Waverly's top strengths on which they could build a future:

· Parks, lakes, and playgrounds

· Waverly is quiet and peaceful

· Growth opportunities

· Locally owned bank/businesses

· Waverly is small in size

I would also list as an asset the opportunities people have to live in, and be part of, a real community, a diverse community, made up of people of different nationalities and religions who live together, not only in geography but in friendship.

So, for the first editorial I will ever write, I am going to say this: "Waverlyites ­ look at each other. Look deeply. You will love what you see."

Our town ­ Grover's Corners, NH

In Thornton Wilder's classic play "Our Town," Emily comes back from the dead to speak for all of us who have grown up in a small town like Waverly.

In "Our Town," Thornton Wilder uses the brilliant device of allowing Emily, his main character, to return from the dead for just one day to her home town of Grover's Corners, N.H. She picks her 14th birthday to return to earth, unobserved, for the day.

Wilder's play about life in a small town reminds me so much of Waverly, it brings a lump in my throat every time I watch or read it.

I would give anything, anything, if I could relive those days I had in Waverly as a child and teenager. It's the same feeling Emily had when she came back from the dead (nobody can hear her, of course):

"Oh, Mama, just look at me one minute as though you really saw me. Mama, 14 years have gone by. I'm dead. You're a grandmother,

Mama . . . We're all dead now . . . But just for a moment, we're all together.

"Mama, just for a moment, we're happy. Let's look at one another! Oh, oh . . . It goes so fast, life does. We don't have time to look at one another! I didn't realize. So, all that was going on and we didn't notice . . . Take me back to the grave . . . But first. Wait! One more look.

"Good-bye, good-bye, world. Good-bye, Grover's Corners . . . Mama and Papa.

"Good-bye to clocks ticking . . . and Mama's sunflowers. And food and coffee.

"And new-ironed dresses and hot baths . . . and sleeping and waking up. Oh, earth, you're too wonderful for anybody to realize you. Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it? Every, every minute?

Stage manager: "The saints and poets, maybe ­ they do some."

"That's all human beings are! Just blind people."

Simon: "Yes, now you know. Now you know! That's what it was to be alive. To move about in a cloud of ignorance, unaware of what other people are feeling . . . to spend and waste time as though you had a million years!"

Our town ­ Anywhere, USA

Robert D. Putnam, in his book called "Bowling Alone" (Simon & Shuster, 2000), proves that small town life is far superior to suburban or city life when it comes to all kinds of things, including quality of life, health, longevity, and trust.

"When people tell pollsters that most people can't be trusted, they are not hallucinating ­ they are merely reporting their experience in big cities. Take, for instance, the case of city size.

"In all forms of altruism, volunteerism, community projects, philanthropy, directions for strangers, aid for the afflicted, and so on, are much, much more common in small towns.

"Crime rates are three times higher, and more, in cities. Store clerks in small towns are more likely to return overpayment than their urban counterparts.

"People in small towns are more likely to assist a 'wrong number' phone caller than urban dweller. Car dealers in small towns perform far fewer unnecessary repairs than big-city dealerships."

In Putnam's book "Bowling Alone" (Great title, huh?), he bemoans the death of community in the United States, but in small towns, communities thrive.

Small towns have their down-side. The children grow up and move away because of lack of jobs. While growing up, they complain that "There's nothing to do here. I can't wait to get away!"

They might note that that's what all adolescents say, no matter where they live. Here in Corpus Christi, teenagers are forbidden to skate-board just about everywhere. The city council here will debate building a skateboard park until skateboarding is no longer a fad.

Aside here: Hey, why is it I have never seen a girl on a skateboard?

There is also no secrecy in small towns. Small town communities are like families. There is no privacy.

Someone said one time that if your 13-year-old daughter was smoking in the drug store downtown, you would hear about it within an hour. People don't mind their own business in small towns.

Then, too, there is the shopping. One of my friends said recently, "Heck, you can't even get a haircut in Waverly anymore."

Churches are noted for building community, but small town churches do it better than anywhere, especially nowadays when the churches don't seem to be quarreling so much, not even on Reformation Sunday.

In the Pastor's Corner column in the Herald a few weeks back, the Rev. Ed Glimpse, interim pastor of Mt. Hermon Lutheran Church, Annandale, told the story of a couple who saw a moving van across the street and went over to welcome the new neighbors with a gift of fresh-baked bread.

The lady of the house across the street said, "That's awfully nice of you, but we're not moving in. We're moving out. We've lived here eight years." Now that story could happen in any city in the nation, but it could never happen in a small town, not even Annandale.

Our town ­ Muleshoe, Texas

I had mentioned this town because Jeanne and I always go through Muleshoe on our way to Colorado, which is where our son lives.

We always stop at the Muleshoe Wildlife Refuge, where there is a prairie-dog town with the pygmy owls who hang out there in a symbiotic fashion. There are also other good sights to see there, including too many sandhill cranes.

Anyway, I received this letter the other day. Receiving letters like this one is one of the perks of writing my column:

"I was reading your article online the other day and felt obligated to respond to your questions about Muleshoe. Let me start by saying I was born and raised in Muleshoe and am proud to call it home.

"Who is Lee Horsley? He is a very famous movie actor. His most notable role was as Matt Houston as a private investigator in the TV series 'Matt Houston.'

(I had mentioned there is a sign outside town that says, 'Welcome to Muleshoe ­ home town of Lee Horsley.' When Jeanne and I stopped in the town for gas, I asked at two different places who Lee Horsley was and the young people couldn't tell me. It would be like stopping in Waverly and asking who was Hubert Humphrey.)

"Where did Muleshoe get its name? This is how the story goes: E. K. Warren, who had recently purchased what was part of the XIT Ranch, was walking along discussing the matter of the land when one of his men picked up an old rusty mule shoe. It was decided then to call the Ubar Ranch the Mule Shoe.

"The town has also been referred to as 'Jenny Slipper,' Jenny being slang for mule and, of course, slipper referring to shoe.

"Muleshoe is the home of the international Muleshoe pitching championship each year. At the Muleshoe Heritage Center in the restored Santa Fe Depot stands 'The World's Largest Muleshoe' at 22 feet high and 17 feet wide.

"The National Mule Memorial, unveiled July 4, 1965, is near the intersection of US 70/84 in downtown Muleshoe, and is a popular picture taking site.

"With the disappearance of mules from the American scene in recent decades, a group of Texas citizens determined to erect a memorial to those unsung beasts of burden. Donations for the monument were received from throughout the nation. In fact, a gift of 21 cents was sent by a mule driver from Samarkand, Uzbekistan, USSR.

"Today, wagons and mule teams can still be seen on Muleshoe's streets. Mule Days is celebrated Labor Day weekend, hosting mule rodeo, mule races, and other mule related activities.

"I grew up in a small house on the south side of town with the sand hills right outside my front door. As a young boy I spent many a day out in those sand hills, watching the jack-rabbits, cottontails, and coyotes, and watching out for the rattlesnakes. It was quite an adventure. I dearly miss west Texas and the people there. My hope is that some day I might return to Muleshoe, the town I love."

Mike Lee, Wetumpka, Alabama, Proud Texan.

Please send me items for this column. I wish I could hear from somebody like Mr. Lee every week. Surely, there are people with the same feelings for Waverly as he has for Muleshoe.

Jim O'Leary, Corpus Christi, Texas. Proud Minnesotan.

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