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Northeastern Minnesota certainly isn’t alone having its share of rural town halls still in existence. A non-local passing by any of them has no way to know its history or how much it or in what ways it might be in use currently. From outside these typically unimpressive frame structures don’t tell much other than white paint was an economical and available choice for the exterior. I’d think more than a few have a past story of homogeneous ethnic use from the time new arrivals would clump together in mutual aid and the comfort of like society. Urban areas often had ethnic halls where weddings were celebrated and funerals observed in accord with ritual from back home and the fellowship of the present. In rural areas of northern Minnesota there was often enough too few of any one group to support its own hall so the town hall filled the role for all the groups. Ethnic diversity was an accepted reality regardless of scores left from the old world. I think I’d miss the mark, too, suggesting that single ethnic groups were fully cohesive. I doubt they were. People with roots from different parts of the same country could be as fractious as people from nations with long histories of conflict.
A factor that seems more common in rural areas these days is the habit of people (some much more than others) wanting to define “community” according to a word grouping of catch phrases that sound impressively correct. It’s true we can define community according to an ideal or a construct, but I personally prefer to think of the local community such as I live in as a being of mixed parts rather than as an idea. Some of the easily recognizable and common parts are the old timers, the new comers, the volunteers, the cookers and cleaners, and of course the complainers. There are others, but that list will do as a general snapshot of a rural community. Some groups easy to leave out are the ones who don’t want to participate or wish to be “left the hell alone.” I think it’s a good thing to remember a community includes the willing outsider and the socially outcast. A person doesn’t have to get caught setting fire to more than two or three barns to find they are unwelcome just about everywhere.
A contemporary role for town halls is their place in grass roots politics. This is an old term but in some instances explains the drift of people going in and out during meetings. It would take an especially sturdy politician to fuss about something like that since even if drinking and smoking are forbidden on public premises there’s a bit of that going on in the sides and corners of the parking lot. It’s a mixed blessing. On the one hand it gets a few more people to participate while on the other it can make their participation a little less than thoroughly tuned in. At most meetings there is at least one person who likes the sound of their voice saying quizzical things. I like to think that speaker is reacting to some substance rather than it being simply their natural way to say much and mean little. I had a couple of high school teachers like that. They could go on for the full hours and their audience of thirty six was no wiser after than before. If a person had no ambition going that route would be one way to take it.
My little settlement fairly far up the North Shore is now holding Town Hall meetings with some regularity. These are a good opportunity for seeing who is still alive and remind us why we’d as soon not visit at certain places. Mostly, however, it is a good thing for the disgruntled to do their grunting and the pacifiers to spread smiley balm. A half hour of Town Hall meeting time is like an experience in dog years because in thirty minutes you can get striking versions of left, right, reactionary, theocracy, and divine right of rulers. This is eye opening stuff, but very tiring. After some of the socio political speeches I feel we should pass out those little mats like in preschool so we could all nap a while and let that heavy stuff soak in. If you’re afraid of nightmares then that nap thing wouldn’t be a good idea, but after some speakers a nap would be a really nice thing and much welcome as smothered guffaws could be masked as snoring.
My Town Hall has added a playground. I thought the idea was to chain kids up out there during meetings but that doesn’t seem to be the scheme at all. I kind of like my idea though it could be improved with a wishing well where the key for the chains could be accidentally dropped. Female parents generally don’t like that kind of humor. It fares better with husbands. There is probably an explanation I’ve yet to understand.
The Hall was once run by the Community Club, mostly older women who cooked up a monthly potluck. Being the sort of place we are there was a genuine cross section. We had millionaires back when the term had significance sit down with the folks with a couple of nickels, maybe. There were drunks and teetotalers and of course more eaters than cookers. I stuck to one side of that equation because nobody was dumb enough to suggest I cross that line. That mildly humbling experience left me with a profound respect for real North Shore fish cakes and rice pudding, though a bloated raisin looks a creepy lot like a fat drowned bug. I use the name Esther in a general way meaning that if you saw Esther bring in a pie your entire potluck plan of attack would shift in “get a piece of that before it’s gone” mode. Thirty men all had the same idea at the same time so your odds weren’t good, but the thrill of the chase was great fun.