Back country roads

By Maggie Gray

People live in rural areas for so many reasons. It might be family owned farms or businesses, it might be a new business hoping to thrive in a small town atmosphere, or it must just be escapism. No matter what, small town living, remote America is a way of life not meant for all. For those living and working on family farms, carrying on tradition is a badge of courage and strength. There may also be corporate-held farms where those desperate for employment find a place to land to support their families. There are those who now retire leaving farm life behind making their way into the main areas of a small town. Then there are those who are fed up with large city life with all the noise and chaos and relocate to small towns like Fairfax.

What do we find here. Oh come on Maggie, what do YOU find here? Let’s take stock. You have Dave’s Service Station, friendly faces, great services and convenience like nothing you will find in the larger towns. There’s F&F Florist, a unique warm and inviting floral and gift shop, with perfect items for special occasions. There’s the Farm Mercantile store with just about everything you need for home and garden and more. There’s Casey’s General Store with great slices of pizza and anything a convenience gas station offers (sorry Dave, you don’t have pizza)! There’s the Sweet Spot Bake Shop that I have yet to visit because, well, frankly, I love my own peanut butter cookies and have yet to break tradition.

But….here it comes. There’s always a but. Nothing made me happier than when I heard the little grocery store was reopening. Yes, I make frequent trips to the Dollar General Store but there’s no fresh flowers, no fresh produce or fresh meats. I am torn down to my toes with whether I want more businesses to open and thrive, or maintain a small town minimalistic atmosphere. Which is it? Do you know? I run into people all over the town now who know me from my column. Everyone I interact with has such hope that Fairfax will grow, even if in small spurts to help its local businesses.

Losses. The local nursing home. The grocery store. The school. The list is longer than I want to compile. I drive around town in the early morning hours hunting for foxes (my joy), and see so many businesses closed. My heart aches for those who gave it their all and closed their doors. Was it the economy, lack of revenue due to a small population or the pandemic that brought owners to that dreadful final day? What can any of us do?

Covid. Ripping and shredding lives apart, vaccinated or not, we who live here owe our local merchants our support. Any business with its doors still open has felt the massive hit of the pandemic. Whether loss of employees, owners, revenue or available stock, these businesses are standing up when they can to an ongoing and now escalating crisis that just keeps beating us down. There’s no question Amazon has become a world leader in volume and delivery of products that is often the only viable solution for the buyer who is fearful of shopping or travel. But Amazon is a machine, our local merchants are our friends, family and community members. Amazon will never compete with that.

Walking. What? What does walking have to do with anything Maggie? Well, let me tell you why, since you ask! Three to five times per week, I take one of my pups - Tucker, my raving lunatic Coonhound, on long walks past the cemetery on the edge of town. He darts in and out of the ditches and ravines, sniffing to his heart’s content, dragging me, I mean allowing me to walk with him, until I limp back to my vehicle. What does that do? It forces me to saunter through the cemetery. Each individual section with names carved on grave markers is both haunting and bringing curiosity to my little brain. Who were these people? Were they founders? Were they large or small family members? Were they farmers? Were they business owners? Were they mothers, fathers, sons or daughters? Most of all, were they loved?

Flowers. Is there no one left to bring flowers to these gravestones? Does anyone remember that they’re there? I have always had a fascination for cemeteries reading the inscriptions and often making up stories on my own. But what I wonder is why is it always so empty? Why don’t I see people there? Is it too painful? Why aren’t there more flowers? This brings me back to F&F Florist. I visited my mother’s grave this past week in Duluth. With horrific traffic and three dogs in tow, it took 11 hours roundtrip to go to Calvary Cemetery in Duluth. So it makes me wonder, is there no one left to visit this local final resting place? If families have moved away, I would love to place flowers on their loved one’s grave. All you have to do is ask. But if you are here locally, what’s stopping you? What a perfectly lovely way to honor your loved one who has left and also support a local florist through tough times.

Visits. Okay, here’s my painful admission to all my readers. I love living here and love this little town. I have a wish list of businesses I would like to see emerge. But my biggest wish? That after my beautiful son and his wife leave from a full day’s visit, that I don’t have that ache, that massive deep sadness that takes over my body when they drive away. Yes, I moved away for a myriad of excellent reasons. But no flowers, cookies, baked goods or neighbors can soothe that emptiness that emerges. So today, I will take my crazed hound dog, take that long walk along the back country road, walk by an empty cemetery, and be thankful that I am alive. I will send out a huge hello to all those lying at rest from anyone and everyone so they know they’re not forgotten.

Thankful. Thank you to anyone reading this and getting through to the end. Thank you to my neighbors Dennis and Zetta for all you do. Thank you to Katie for the messages when you have time. Thank you Kris for suggestions and asking me for fashion tips! Thank you Denise Bonsack for putting up with my ramblings. Humbly, just thank you Fairfax for now being a huge part of these steps in my life’s ongoing journey.


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