I was born and raised in Albert Lea, maybe it is in my blood to love small towns. It has not mattered where I have traveled I always sought out small towns. One of the reasons I think I love them so much is the ability to truly get to know people. Not only through conversation, but through quiet observation. What makes people tick? What do they love? I love the close knit tribe a small town creates. Sure, it can also create chatter boxes and rumor mills, but those are everywhere, especially with social media. We now have a giant town square. So, what do I love about small towns and why did I choose to move back to Albert Lea? I have always chosen towns with strategic proximities to larger cities.
When I lived in Lake City, CO. It was 1 hour from Gunnison, CO, 2 hours from Montrose and 3 hours from Grand Junction. It was also within an hour or two of ski slopes. There were multiple backcountry roads to drive, ride on horseback, bike ride or other wonderful adventures. The continental divide was literally my back yard, the aspen’s change of color every fall left everyone breathless. In the winter the towns population was about 300-400 and in the summer it went up into the thousands.
I lived in Soldotna, AK for a summer. It was only a few hours from Anchorage, a hop and skip to Kenai and the same story with many other Alaskan towns. The Kenai River flowed through the back of the property and you could see the king salmon swim by from the river bank. Bald eagles, moose and bears where normal beauty.
After all of my adventures I came home to Albert Lea. It is 2 hours from the Twin Cities, 1 hour from Rochester, 2 hours from Rochester, 1 hour from Mankato, 2 hours from Sioux Falls, SD, 2 hours from Wisconsin and 3 hours from Des Moines. It is awesome to be able to have a base camp to enjoy easy day trips or weekend getaways. Honestly, this is as close as I care to get to bigger cities. I love being able to enjoy the art museums, operas, larger play productions and other perks larger cities offer, but I love knowing I get to go home to my quiet home town.
I don’t want to live in a community where it runs 24/7, where Sundays are no longer sacred and there is no time to stop and smell the roses let alone plant them. I don’t want to have to look for nature and wildlife, I don’t want to have to find it in a zoo or a wild life refuge. I want to step out of my door and have it greet me with a song. Even in town we are able to lay out in our yard and star gaze with our kids. I enjoy not having to look far to enjoy these important things that make my heart sing.
I love our low crime rate, lower cost of living, multiple parks, neighbors who are committed to creating a place we all enjoy living, working and playing. Small towns are always getting knocked and become known for the “place where there is nothing to do”. Well, I think it is in the eye of the beholder. My mom always told me as a kid it is my responsibility to find my fun. This is as true as an adult. Albert Lea is an idea friendly town and if there is something I want to come to town, then I need to creatively figure out how to make it happen. Making my hometown fabulous is a individual and group responsibility. When I realize bringing change, events and other awesome things to town are my responsibility, this is when communities begin to rock. I love how members in our community have stepped up and said I will take this and that project on. Shinefest, Wind Down Wednesday and The Big Island Rendezvous to name a few. These projects were all started with someones heart and vision to get it going. They tackled frustrations, hurdles and negativity to get them going. These events are beloved in Albert Lea and are a huge part of who we are.
Living in a small town I do not get lost in the sea of people. I have a name, even at the bank, not just a number. In a small town I am a person.
When I graduated high school I could not wait to get out of town. I wanted to go as far away as possible and for a long time I ignored my former life in Albert Lea. If you would have asked me 11 1/2 years ago if I would ever come back I would have laughed and then forgotten my hometown again. I experienced the world and I am thankful I did so. I met amazing people, learned important lessons about cultures, geography and was able to live wild and free. I loved it, but I am also thankful I was able to come home to sweet rural town. It is an amazing place to raise our kids.
We have had to learn to get over ourselves and our fears. It has taken me ten years to see my former high school peers as people who had to survive it too. To see them as grown adults who have become kind and compassionate people. When I left I viewed the situation as they only knew me as I was, I had to learn that I only knew them as they were, not who they had become. They changed as much as I did. I had to allow for this change in both of us. So, I had to get over myself. I had to take responsibility to make my life better. If I wanted what I considered fun, it is my job to figure out how to bring it here or to make time and money to go visit the place that had what I was looking for. It is my job to create a life I love. It’s hard and a lot of work, but it is worth it and I would not trade it for anything.