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Growing up in a small town provided a simple and safe life

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Boomer Grandpa — Loren Else column sig

A few months ago, my hometown newspaper, the Pine County Courier, celebrated 125 years of existence. This is remarkable, as newspapers big and small struggle to survive.

The newspaper, located in Sandstone, got underway in 1894, shortly after the horrific Great Hinckley fire. When my family moved there in the early ’60s, I believe the population was around 1,500.

Many baby boomers were blessed with the good fortune to grow up in a small town. Our grandchildren will never understand the life we experienced. What was the town that shaped you?

In honor of that simple and safe life, the following is a letter to a small-town newspaper that may or may not still be there.

"Dear Hometown,

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I hope all is well. I still miss you. You may remember me. My family moved to town many years ago. I loved growing up in a small town.

The classmates I met years ago are still friends. When my family arrived, we moved into the white house two houses down from the Apco service station.

I would walk about a quarter-mile to school, across old Highway 61, down a hill, and across the railroad tracks. The school, built in the early 1900s still stands, although now vacant.

The structure was the heart and soul of the town. Residents and businesses could hear the school bell ring and the sounds of kids playing during recess.

Over the years, I learned values, observed what community is and witnessed ways to live a good life. A town may be small, but it includes many extraordinary people.

Regular stops along Main Street were the Ben Franklin to buy packs of baseball cards, the drugstore to check out the new comics, and the bowling alley to play some pinball.

I would tag along with Mom or Dad on trips to the Red Owl or the local hardware store. We had a car dealership right on Main Street. We had a bakery, as well — 10 cents for a fresh chocolate-covered doughnut.

In the summer, I would plead with Mom or Dad to stop at the A&W Root Beer stand. In each business around town, I learned about service, honesty and how to treat people with kindness.

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I was skinny and self-conscious. Athletics built my confidence. In small towns, everyone makes the team. Athletics develop skillsets of hard work, teamwork and leadership.

My bike was essential,as I rode it around town to see my friends. There were many. In the summer, I fished, I bowled, I played baseball, and I took in movies at the local theater.

I learned how to take care of myself. I was taught to show adults respect. I was free to roam but if I did do something stupid my parents would hear about it.

I came home when the street lights came on. I remember the sense that the community kept an eye on me.

At some point, I began to recognize that some had a more difficult path than I did, with disabilities, family issues, race or poverty. This lesson, although slowly learned, taught me to be aware of that and to show kindness to all. You never know the struggles that someone may be going through.

In school, not only were the teachers and coaches important to us, but also the office staff, our cooks, custodians and bus drivers.

School athletic events, band concerts and theater activities were well attended. The community would turn out in force for that pancake supper before an athletic event. There were pep fests, parades, bonfires and homecomings.

Friday nights, there may have been a dance. A live band would perform, and like morons, we would stand right next to the speakers. My male classmates and I were nervous, but eventually, we might get up enough courage to ask a girl to dance. The clumsiness and sweaty palms were a rite of passage.

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I hope kids today can still feel safe, supported, encouraged and happy in a small town. My grandkids are growing up in a big town. It’s a great community, but not the same. They worry about many more things than I did. The doors to their home are always locked. That’s just the way it is.

It’s hard to even verbalize the joy and the well-being I experienced growing up in a small town. I was encouraged and supported.

Thank you, hometown. Although I have moved away, I will remember you. I plan to stop by occasionally and say hi. It’s the least I can do."

Related Topics: EDUCATION
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