I have spent so much of my life lamenting on the fact that I am still living in the same small Wisconsin town in which I was born and raised. I watched my classmates scatter in different directions, but here I stayed. I did make an attempt at flying the coop, but failed miserably, ended up back at home, and upon meeting my husband, remained firmly in place. We raised two children, bought a home in the country and proceeded to create a place of comfort and peace amid our crazy lives.
We have family here-lots of it! And they are an endless supply of support, inspiration, and just plain fun. From family campouts to holiday celebrations, birthday parties and all those times that nothing can replace.
Yet, I still wondered, what if…
Well, guess what? I am now the Vice President of the Chamber of Commerce and am beginning a beautification committee for our struggling small town. Funny how life takes us down paths we never expected.
It began with a nagging thought. “Put up or shut up!” Our little town isn’t the same charming place I remember from my childhood. Maybe I’m looking through those rosy colored glasses, but the high school band practiced in the white gazebo in the downtown park, old-fashioned lights lit the sidewalks, store fronts carried bounties of goods and the shop owners knew your name and those of your parents and grandparents. The largest fish caught that week was displayed in the cooler in front of Scully’s Sporting Goods, and the lunch counter in Jeske’s Drug had the best cherry cokes around.
Now, the gazebo is long gone, half of the park was eaten up by a newly built bank, the band doesn’t come downtown anymore because the school was moved to the outskirts. Those old stores are gone, replaced by thrift shops and those with any enterprising optimism generally do not prevail. The buildings are deteriorating rapidly and the local mill is barely hanging on. Families are struggling to feel their children and meth has invaded our midst.
Sounds soul-sucking, doesn’t it? But despite all this, there is a movement happening here. A feeling that we can’t afford to wait around for industry to find us and save the day with good paying jobs, we need to save this place ourselves. Maybe reinvent our place in the Wisconsin landscape. The city, with grants and State aid, have done what they can. Trees have been planted and the old bridge crossing our river has been replaced, sidewalks have been repaired, and decorative street lights now illuminate our streets. And one thing that excites me is that the many artisans we have here.
There is the inkling of a rebirth happening here. A rekindling of spirit and community. A feeling that this place is reestablishing itself as a small town with so much to offer. We can walk down our streets in safety, enjoy the quiet of nights under the stars, a crackling fire filling the air with the sparks and the aroma of wood smoke, picnic next to a rambling river, glide down a snowy hill and fish from a rickety shack on the ice, take to the many trails for walking, ATVing, and snowmobiling, enjoy a concert in the park, and friendship at the local pub. It’s what a small town was meant to be.
And I can’t wait to see what happens next.