Community: Blessed Be the Tie that Binds

Written August 26, 2013.

On the surface, I just bought a few cool drinks at The Fremont Store and watched the Gladiolus Days Parade while my kids loaded up bags with candy.  It was just typical summer stuff.

But The Fremont Store isn’t just any store.  It’s the country store where my grandparents bought groceries when my mom was a little girl, and it still looks almost exactly the same as it did back then.  And the parade wasn’t just any parade, because it’s is my hometown parade.  It’s the parade I watched surrounded by my family on the curb; the parade where my mom and three of her grandkids were actually in the parade itself.

 The Fremont Store: Our stop for a cool drink and a little slice of community history.

The Fremont Store: Our stop for a cool drink and a little slice of community history.

Those two events brought to mind the importance of a connection to community and family, and the phrase “the ties that bind” popped into my head.

Wondering where the phrase “ties that bind” came from, I headed to the internet.  I found John Fawcett, a Baptist pastor in the 1700s, wrote a hymn titled “Blessed Be the Tie That Binds.”  According to Wikipedia, he apparently wrote the hymn to commemorate a time in his own life, when instead of moving to take a higher paid position elsewhere, he chose to remain in the community already lived.  Reading the lyrics of the hymn, Fawcett expressed more elegantly than I can some of the thoughts I had in my head.

I’m not going to reprint the whole hymn and make people’s eyes glaze over, but I will give you a snippet.  To me, these lines exemplify what it is to be connected with others in the community:

Our fears, our hopes, our aims are one,
Our comforts and our cares.
We share each other’s woes,
Our mutual burdens bear;
And often for each other flows
The sympathizing tear.

Even though everyone has their own personalities, agendas, and political leanings, in so many ways we all want the same things.  When things are good, we celebrate one another’s accomplishments, and when times are tough, the burden is shared by many.  That is community.

The Fremont Store 
I saw it in The Fremont Store last Friday.  We really just pulled in to the store on a whim on our way to the Mississippi after after my daughter asked, “Can we stop at that really old store?”  Since we hadn’t been there in a year, I altered my route to make the stop.

I snapped a picture of my kids on the porch front of the little country store, standing in their swimming suits ready for a day at the river.  I told them my mom went to that store as a kid, and the store looks pretty much the same as when their grandma was a girl.  Every time I go there, I can’t believe the store really exists.  It feels like stepping back in time.

I let each of my kids pick out a cool drink from the cooler and then we paid.  If you’ve been to the store, you know that means I pushed the button to open the cash drawer, and made the change myself.

Instead of moving along on our way, we talked for a few minutes to Martha Johnson.  In no time flat, she made the family connection that Barbie Baer, who lives just down the road, is my aunt.

While standing there, my little daughter held up her fingers to show that she is two.  I laughed in disbelief when Martha counted out her own age on her hands.  I guessed 70-something, was impressed that she continued to 80, and then she finally stopped at 97. Wow.

I left the store with a cool drink and such a huge sense of awe about that woman who’s 97, still sharp and telling stories and running a quiet store in the country.  She mentioned in passing, “People today say things are bad.  They don’t know what they’re talking about.”  If anyone can be an authority on knowing about good and bad, I’d say it’s a 97-year-old.   That cool lady made my day.  I need to stop in Fremont more often.

The Parade
On Sunday the whole town of St. Charles looked alive and bustling as we headed into town to see the parade.  Passing the fire station, we saw all the trucks lined up, sparkling clean and shining in the sun and decked out with gladiolus flowers.  For some reason, seeing that sight just flooded me with a sense pride for the town.  Knowing that the fire fighters in St. Charles are all volunteers made the sight all the more impressive.  Trucks look immaculate in the parade, and more importantly, fires are put out, because people take time out of their busy lives to serve the community.

After watching the parade, I have to say the best part of the parade was seeing my mom dressed in character as Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother riding on the library float. Yes, I am entirely biased.

My mom, Mary Kramer, waving her magic wand during the Gladiolus Days parade.

My mom, Mary Kramer, waving her magic wand during the Gladiolus Days parade.

First of all, I’ve never seen my mom in a costume before.  Ever.  But just to do something different, when the library held a character costume contest, she decided to dress up.  I headed up to her attic and unearthed my long-unused homecoming attendant crown for the cause.  A great dress find in the clearance rack and some dollar store sparkles and fluff completed her costume.  And lo and behold, my mom the librarian won the “13 and over” category for her costume, thus earning her a place on the library float for the parade.

Prior to this year, the last parade float she rode was in the 1950’s when she was an attendant for Lewiston Heartland Days.  Yes, it’s been a while.  My mom had a huge smile as she waved her magic wand to the parade crowd.  Her favorite parts were all of the people spotting her and saying “Hi, Mary!” as she rode past, and seeing the sheer number of people along the entire parade route.

I also watched two nieces go by with their sports teams, and a nephew pounding the bass drum.  There’s a comfortable familiarity in watching a parade that I marched in when I was in school, and seeing family doing the same.

After the parade my family headed to my mom’s house.  There I noticed her Reader’s Digest magazine folded open to an article that caught my eye.  The article described a study that questioned children’s knowledge of their family history.  In the study, they found children who scored highest in resilency also knew the most facts about their families (such as where the grandparents grew up, or where the mom went to high school).  They suggested that knowing those facts signified a strong connection with family, an inter-generational connectedness that helps children face the onslaught of life’s troubles.  Knowing some history gives them a place in the world.

Reading that article just felt like a confirmation of what I already believed.  The connections of family, and by extension, being connected to a community, give all of us a resilience to handle the trials of life.

Following that line of thought, it’s good to dress up like a fairy godmother and wave to friends in the local parade.  And retelling “remember when Grandma dressed up” during subsequent years of Gladiolus Days will actually help make the grandkids more resillient in life.  There really is magic in that fairy wand…it’s a tie that binds.

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Thank you‏

Written on June 23, 2013 for my weekly column in the local paper

To all my readers,

Many of you know that we lost my brother, Mike Kramer, in a helicopter accident this past week.  We are all working through the unexpected loss.  Instead of writing an article for the paper this week, I’m helping my family compile “Mike  Stories” for his eulogy.  We all have great memories of Mike as a kid, a young man, and we are so proud of the man he became as a husband and father.  I could fill a full newspaper with great stories, and still it wouldn’t be enough.

Through all of this I’m once again reminded that we live in a great community.  Thank you for the outpouring of kindness and support that you shared with my family: visits, kind words and hugs while running errands, gifts of food, and so much more.  I know that Mike felt blessed to have his family in the community of St. Charles.

Thank you.

Sincerely,
Kathy Kramer Mosdal

Why Small Town Businesses Matter to Me

When I need groceries or something from the hardware store, my first choice for shopping is one of the small towns near my home.  Why? Because supporting small town business matters to me.

I support those businesses because I know what it’s like to live in a small town with no options available.

Ten years ago, my husband and I moved to his hometown of Broadview, Montana (pop 250).  At the time the gas station, the town’s only retail option, was shut down.  Need a gallon of milk or gas?  The closest option was thirty miles round trip.  Need something more substantial than gas station offerings?  Plan on 70 miles round trip.

Two years after moving to Broadview, MT, my husband bought the closed down gas station for the shop space it offered for his scale business.  Seeing a huge need for services in the town we called home, we then went through the enormous process of reopening the gas station.  A year after purchasing the gas station, that little town once again had a service station and a convenience store stocked with snacks, groceries, and even basic plumbing and hardware supplies.

It wasn’t easy.  We faced roadblocks all along the way, from financing, to finding vendors that could supply products to us for reasonable prices.  It didn’t make us rich.  We did it because we knew that providing products and services in our then hometown made the town a better place to live.  When we moved to Minnesota, we sold the business to capable hands so it could continue to serve that MT community.

Garry Ronnenberg is quick and careful as he bags and load groceries.

Garry Ronnenberg is quick and careful as he bags and load groceries.

And now in Minnesota, we continue to support small town business for many reasons.

1.  Convenience.  Shopping in a small town store is fast and easy.  Even on the busiest days, traffic and parking is never an issue.  I never lose my vehicle in the parking lot.  There are no of crowds or long lines.

When shopping at a mega store, more than once I lived without an item on my list because it was too much hassle to back track a quarter mile to the other end of the store with my kids in tow.  In small town stores, though, it’s a quick zip down a few aisles.  And better yet, in a small town grocery, on more than one occasion a store employee volunteered to grab an item for me when I had that “Oh no I forgot something” moment in the checkout line.

Even on days that I make a trip to Rochester for errands, I often stop in Chatfield on the way through to buy my groceries at the hometown grocery store.  It’s a more peaceful, easier shopping experience to get all my groceries in the small store.  And it’s faster.   I can fly through the store without hassle, easily get help when I need it, and get out quickly.  If I worked a 9-5 in Rochester, I’d do the same.  It’s easy to stop at the small local grocery for last minute items on the way home.  During the 5:00 rush hour, it simply isn’t a huge rush in a small town.

2.  Friendly Service.  The adage “Know Your Customer” means different things depending on where you shop.  The big box stores “know” me in a demographic sense (age, gender, family size, etc. as their computers track my transaction history and cross reference my credit card numbers).  That kind of “knowing” I find a little disconcerting.  On the other hand, my small town grocer knows my friends, family, and neighbors on a first name basis.

I love small town shopping where people genuinely care about helping their customers, who are in fact, their neighbors.  I love that when I walk into the local hardware store, in no time flat an employee is there to say, “Can I help you find something?”.   That allows me to get what I need before my kids dump out and rearrange all of the store’s plumbing fittings.

Little grocery carts are a big hit with my kids at the local grocery store.

Little grocery carts are a big hit with my kids at the local grocery store.

Because I see the same familiar faces time and time again, I know the people in the local grocery store can do speedy checkouts, bag my groceries without smashing my food, and then have the groceries loaded into my van before I even get my kids buckled in their car seats.

And when I leave the grocery store in a small town, the employees say “thank you for shopping here” and they mean it.  The truth is, I’m thankful, too.  I’m usually juggling 2-4 worn out kids and a cart heaping with groceries.  The small town store’s extra courtesy of loading groceries into my vehicle makes my life so much easier.

3.  We CAN Afford Local.  My family is cost-conscious on our spending.  We are a family of six who chooses to live on my husband’s income while I’m at home with our young children.  That said, we make the choice to shop in the small town stores.  I keep a pretty close eye on prices, and I generally don’t find a huge difference in prices between big mega stores and small town stores.  The smaller stores also have better sales, so sometimes prices are significantly cheaper.  If I do spend a few extra dollars buying small town groceries, I would rather put it into the local economy than burn it up in gas and time on the road.

Shopping in small town stores also reduces my over-all dollars spent.   By getting most of our groceries in St. Charles, Chatfield, or Rushford, I can often go a full month before I need to head to the “big cities” of Rochester or Winona to get other items on my list.  Less trips to mega stores means less time circling large glittering aisles, and less impulse items end up in my cart.  Shopping local helps keep our purchases to the basics, saving us money.

4.  Small Town Matters.
More than anything, I want the small communities in this area to thrive.  Small businesses create thriving communities.  I don’t want to another “oh what a shame that we don’t have a grocery store/hardware store anymore” to happen in my neck of the woods.  It’s much easier to keep a business around than to try to bring back one that closed it’s doors.  I know that first hand.  It’s small town stores that give a community identity and help make a place feel like a “real town,” rather than just a cluster of houses where commuters sleep.

rushford iga

The friendly help of Dean Hatlevig and Garry Ronnenberg of the Rushford IGA are two reasons why I shop local.

I like seeing familiar faces while I run errands, I like friendly service in stores, and I like shopping to be a simple convenience in a peaceful setting.  That’s why I chose to live here.  I support small town businesses because I want them to be here in the future.

Special Thanks to the Tri-County Record newspaper in Rushford, MN who also asked to publish this in their paper as well. See my front page story below:http://www.rushford.net/SiteImages/FileGallery/609.pdf

My Gladiolus is Acting Up Again: A Hometown Reunion

Back in high school one of my favorite times was driving Mr. Diesel home from cross country practice with the windows down on warm days, blaring “Small Town”.  Mr. Diesel was my decidedly unsexy by 16-year-old standards ’82 Oldsmobile Delta 88, and the John Mellencamp tape was pretty much worn out by my older sister, but in those moments, I felt completely at one with the universe.  Driving down country roads, wind in my hair, livin’ the small town life, I knew that John Cougar Mellencamp (yeah, he’ll always be “Cougar” to me) and I were completely simpatico on small towns.

My small hometown, St. Charles, Minnesota, is everything that people dream of when they think of great small towns.  Like many people, though, I felt the need to strike out on my own and make a life for myself.  I moved 1,000 miles away to Montana for college, and for the most part, lived in Montana ever since.  Six months ago, though, I moved back home to Minnesota with my husband and four kids.  Life’s a whole new adventure back home again, taking in all that small town life has to offer.

By my best count, it’s been at least ten years since I last meandered the streets of downtown St. Charles, taking in good old Gladiolus Days, the annual hometown celebration.  That’s nearly a third of my life with no parade, no street vendors, no garage sale mania, no Gladiolus Days Road Race.  Living in Montana during those years, the timing never worked for us to come to Glad Days since school always starts there the week before the big bash.  After a ten-year hiatus, it’s really fun to be back.  Or perhaps I should say, I’m glad.

When I first told our kids about Gladiolus Days, they wrinkled their faces into a questioning glance and said, “What’s a ‘gladiolus’?”  I do admit, if it’s not part of your common vocabulary, the word sounds more like a reference to some sort of disease than a flower, as in “I need to go to the doctor, my gladiolus is acting up again.”  All kidding aside, I enjoyed telling my kids about Carl Fischer and how he made the town of St. Charles legendary for his work with the gladiolus.  I told them how I remembered as a kid driving past his big field of flowers on the way to swimming lessons in the summertime, how everyone in town knew and respected his work, and how he remains famous for his glads still today.

Behold…the Gladiolus.

When we rounded the corner onto Main Street on Saturday, my six-year-old spied buckets of flowers for sale on the corner of 14 and Main, and said, “Oooh, are those gladiolus, Mom?”  So, yep, my little Montana natives now understand “gladiolus.”  My hometown festivities began on Saturday morning when I headed to the road race.  I met up with Alison, who was my cross country and track teammate and friend all through junior high and high school.  I don’t know how many miles we logged together over the years, or how many workouts we gutted out together, but I do remember the many crazy ways we entertained ourselves over the miles.

We haven’t seen each other since high school graduation, though, so logging another 3 miles together during the race meant all the more.  Getting to chat during a run with a friend of 20 years and catch up on some details of our lives, we discovered we both married mechanical engineers (good taste, obviously…).  She’s a doctor; I’m a mom.  And we still crack up at remembering the couple of times we made clandestine detours to the Oasis during practice.  (Sorry Mr. Arnold, I think it was mostly in junior high.)   Most importantly, courtesy of Gladiola Days, we both had a reason to get together on a Saturday morning and reconnect a friendship that’s endured through distance and time.

After the race, I hung around long enough to meet a friend’s new baby and watch my friends’ kids compete their little hearts out in the Marky Fun Run activities.  Then I took my sweaty self and my family downtown to indulge in some street vendor fare.  As we baked on the pavement enjoying pronto pups, pitas, and pop, I saw old neighbors walk by and had a chance to chat in line with our former veterinarian.

My mom repeatedly told me to never, ever put a plastic bag on my head. But when it’s the candy bag on the way to the parade…well, then I make four exceptions.

Saturday was fun for me, but Sunday was definitely the main event for my kids.   Before the parade, we steeped them in parade etiquette.  Wave to the people throwing candy, and you’ll get more candy.  Say thank you.  Don’t get too close to the tractors.  When the motorcycles circle around, get off the road and give them room.  And if you’re lucky (unlucky?), the dragon might blow smoke on you.

The pink tractor, running on girl power, was my daughter’s parade favorite.

After brunch at Grandma’s, our two oldest kids hopped on their bikes, and our two little ones climbed in the stroller.  We wove down the streets and made our way down to sit by my high school friends.   With our four little kids all geared up to see fire trucks, horses, tractors, beauty queens, and grab gobs of candy, anticipation was high.

My six-year-old daughter waved for the full hour and a half of the parade.  Her reward?  Her gallon-size Ziploc filled way beyond capacity with all her loot, including a pair of sunglasses, a beach ball, and a paint stick, and endless candy.

My husband, Jarred, who’s never seen the Shriners on motorcycles before, thought the weaving formations, locking brakes, and tassels flying on fez hats were a fine bit of parade magnificence.  He marveled that they are even allowed to do that in this age of extreme safety measures.  In a role reversal, my five-year-old son, in contrast, was not impressed.  After the Shriners whizzed past a few times, he said in the disgusted voice of a grumpy old man, “When are those stupid, loud motorcycles going to leave?!”

And like any good small town parade, we hung around and talked to friends until the kids were crying and begging to leave, feeling sweaty, hot, thirsty, and tired.  We didn’t have as much time to catch up as I hoped, but our baby was fully coated in sugary stickiness and bits of grass and sported a dirty diaper, and the stroller was weighed down with all sorts of candy and brochures from politicians.  I believe that fully covers a complete Gladiolus Days Parade experience.

By the time we made our way back to Grandma’s, my baby girl was dead to the world, and never even opened an eye as I changed her diaper and laid her down in the crib for a real nap.

A trip to the Oasis capped off the afternoon.  Word spread at Grandma’s that Sunday was the last day for the Oasis, and in record time, the mention of ice cream gathered a crew of 15 nieces and nephews and parents meandering down the street toward the Oasis.  While we waited fairly patiently in line, the cousins filled the mechanical ride-on pony a fair bit beyond the ordinary load, and a half dozen kids all enjoyed a 25-cent ride several times.

Finally, cones in hand, we licked up the last tastes of summer ice cream.  And like a good mother, I helped rescue my three-year-old from drippy cone mess by making a quick licking pass all around his cone a few times.  Unfortunately, in saving my son from getting ice cream drips, I neglected my own cone.  A huge blob of my cherry dip cone wax and ice cream landed squarely on my sister’s toes and flip flop.  Sometimes, my efforts at looking like a respectable adult are just completely futile.  I’m still pretty much that same five-year-old that struggles to get through a dip cone before it completely covers my hand in white rivers of sticky, melted ice cream.

I’ll try to master the dip cone next summer.

Ice cream from the Oasis, the Gladiolus Days Road Race, and the big parade all added up to a great weekend in St. Charles.  After living out of state for most of the last 14 years, there’s a comfortable familiarity in crossing paths on the streets of St. Charles with people I’ve known for a lifetime, having 30-year friendships in my mid-thirties, and holding a lifetime of memories at every corner of a town that is clearly a thriving community with so much to offer.

The appeal of my hometown didn’t escape my five-year-old son, who told me, “When I grow up, I’m going to live in St. Charles.  It has a HUGE parade!  And all kinds of garage sales!!  And good ice cream!!”  What more could you want?  It’s good to be home again.