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  (ARCHIVES)Back to Current
Come as you are (08/21/2005)
By Janet Lewis Burns

"Sit a spell and chat. Take a load off and have a glass of lemonade. How ya been?"

"Things we do anonymously in big cities, such as buying groceries, filling the car up with gas, or making a bank deposit, are often occasions in small towns for conversing with friends and neighbors." - Tony Andersen, from "Small Town Minnesota A to Z"

This guy climbed lots of water towers! When Tony Andersen, St. Paul, set out on a great photo expedition, in 1998, visiting Minnesota towns with populations under 1,000, he envisioned photographing buildings, not people.

The passionate photographer traveled 14,000 miles throughout the state, knocking on doors in 26 bergs - one for each letter of the alphabet.

A charming forward to Andersen's pictorial compilation, by Minnesota native, poet and author Bill Holm, describes small town dwellers with engrossing candor.

"Much of public life in small towns goes on in cafes, where locals exchange news and stories, play cards, shake dice, drink gallons of thin, watery coffee if it's weak, you can drink more," Holm writes. "Cafes and taverns are always the last businesses to close in small towns."

Joining in local events and celebrations, Andersen visit the "turtle racing capital of the world," Longville, in Cass County, population 224. Every Wednesday, it's the big draw in those parts!

Years ago, Pat and I rented a cabin at Ottertail Lake in northwest Minnesota. On a drive around the area, I remember walking down a steamy summer street with friends Kent and Dawn Erdmann to find out why their main drag was closed to traffic.

Hundreds of youngsters were picking squirming turtles from plastic kiddie pools. Placed on a bold yellow starting line - well, I guess you had to be there. A turtle winning a race is as farfetched as a bucking bronco placing in the Kentucky Derby.

The homespun book features action photos of Little League baseball games. Just as the sleepy little town of Buckman, in Morrison County, had built their ballpark with proceeds from the sale of pulltabs in area bars, funds raised from those turtle races in Longville have supported their Little League since 1967. How Minnesotan!

Andersen received a hearty welcome at the Mud Hen Cafe in Odessa, Big Stone County, population 194. He met a citizen whose rare hobby has brought him nationwide acclaim.

A "wheelwright," old timer Cliff Olson makes and restores wooden wagon wheels, buggies, and sleighs. Aging hands have taken his craft but not his spirit.

Quamba, Kanabec County, population 124, has only one single public establishment, just as Houston County's Yucatan. To give readers some idea where everybody went, Quamba's sole business is Happy Haven, an assisted living residence.

I'm sure some folks in our area once traveled to the middle of nowhere, to have a great meal and a good drink surrounded by the cornfields of Yucatan. I didn't know it was closed down! The former owner of the casual supper club, Suzanne Crossman once entertained a famous celebrity.

She told the roving cameraman about the time the master of Cody, the infamous buffalo of "Dances With Wolves" fame, strolled into the Yucatan Supper Club with his mammoth pet. Cody was fed his favorite Oreo cookies to lure him to pose for a picture.

The picture taker came clean - there isn't actually a Xylophone, Minnesota.

Thirteen guests, neighbors, and owners of Olstad's Resort on Lake Michigan, in Douglas County, agreed to help Andersen complete his alphabet, by coming up with "Xylophone," population 13, and posing for a picture with their sign. All that's necessary to make it official is 87 more residents and an application form.

From Argyle to Zumbro Falls, on any Main Street in any town you might find yourself in, you can expect genuine "Minnesota nice." Come as you are - share your story.

Tony Andersen reflects on his undertaking, "I came away with a profound appreciation and understanding not only of rural life but also of the kindness innate in all of us."

That's where it's at. 


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