Friday’s Weekend Column
About a Minnesota Man Exploring Life in the South

Small Towns
by James Glaser
January 28, 2011
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I grew up in a small city, Saint Paul, Minnesota, but I never really lived there as an adult. I also lived in Tempe, Arizona, where I went to Arizona State. Tempe wasn't all that big back then, but it was right next to Phoenix which was big. When you are going to school, you have neither the time nor the desire to think about the city you live in.

After that, I was headed to the woods of Northern Minnesota where I stayed for the next thirty some years. I never actually lived in a town up there. I did live in a township, which is kind of like a town, except other than farming and logging, there are no businesses, but you do have a sense of community.

Well, come to think about it, I did live right in the town of Northome, Minnesota for two years. Calling Northome a town or city might be legally correct, but village is a better fit. I think when I arrived, just over 300 people were living there. After those two years I bought a place on a lake a few miles out of town.

About five years ago I moved down to Tallahassee, Florida. Yes, like most men who move to the South, it was a woman who drew me down. It didn't take me all that long to figure out that Tallahassee was way too big for me to feel comfortable, so that woman, now my wife, and I started looking for a small town or a rural area where we could buy a house. We ended up in Madison, Florida, and we are both happy we did.

It wasn't like Madison just jumped right out at us, because we looked at a lot of places. But it seemed that every time we came through Madison, something caught our eye, or we met somebody who seemed nice. I remember one time seeing a sign on the Court House lawn that said something about a prayer march coming up. That was nice to see. Another time was on a fifth Saturday, and we stopped and bought a piece of an eleven layer cake. That was nice, too.

Long story short, we bought a house four miles out of Madison up the Valdosta Highway on Dusty Miller. We bought a house and have turned it into our home. We liked the town right off, and we still do. We have met more and more nice people, and have started the process of settling in.

Now that we are here, I have to tell you, I still like the Madison that attracted us to live here. I learned this from living in Northern Minnesota. If you like the place you have moved to, don't try to change it into something else. First off, you are going to make a lot of people mad. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, if you do change it, it won't be the same place that attracted you in the first place.

Yes, I have seen the bumper stickers that say, "I Don't Care How You Did It Up North," and I have to smile, because when I lived in Northern Minnesota we used to say, "I don't care how you people did things in the city." People from the "big" cities of Saint Paul and Minneapolis would come the 250 miles north and try telling us we didn't know the right way to do things. I know how I felt about them, and I am sure it is the same way the people raised in Madison feel about people moving in and saying they know how to make Madison better.

You see, I learned living in rural Minnesota, no matter how good your intentions are, if every new person changed Madison just a smidgen, in no time at all, I would be looking for some place else to live.

There was not just one thing that attracted me to this area, but rather the whole package. The town, the people, the hardwoods and pines, the logging trucks, the churches, the sense of community and the history and the pride in that history I see and hear from the people who live here. The members of the football team raising their own money selling coupon books at the Winn Dixie, the Churches having fund raisers for people in need, right on the Court House lawn while little boys play a game of scrimmage right there with them. The local Chapter of the Wild Turkey Federation teaching safe hunting practices to the area's youth. The smiles and the friendly atmosphere when you walk around town, and that is not something you find just anywhere.

Yes, Madison is having a hard time and several businesses have closed, but have you been to Tallahassee lately? It seems that every strip-mall has a For Lease sign in a few store fronts, and the Tallahasse Mall looks ready to shut down. Times are tough all over, but you don't make a wholesale change in your community in hopes of something better. It is like throwing the baby out with the bath water.

Look around Madison. There are new people moving in all the time. Why, because of all the good things a small town like Madison has been able to keep. Many towns have destroyed themselves by trying to attract a Wal-Mart or a big chain restaurant, and a couple of years later they realize that all their local stores closed, and their identity as a town was lost, along with that sense of community.

Madison has a lot going for it. Yes, anyone can point a finger at this or that, but the good far out-weighs the bad, and there sure are a lot of nice kids growing up here. That has to tell you something.

So, I plan to live here, God willing, for a long time. I like the town and the area. Yes, I'll try my best to shop locally, help out with those fund raisers, and watch with interest as the town and county grows. But for me, I think this place is delightful, and I thank God for directing us here.

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