"You'll never get ahead if you don't take care of what you have." - Doris Waddell, RIP

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn
The multi-ethnic building was the original home of the music department at UMM. (B.W. photo)

Monday, July 26, 2010

Should we have such affinity with word "prairie?"

The prairie has its share of color to offset some of the blandness of what might seem a monotonous landscape. This photo was taken along the Pomme de Terre River. It is said the land immediately next to the river is unchanged from way back before Morris. (B.W. photo)

A recent op-ed in the local legacy media indicated we're having one of those periodic inspecting-your-navel discussions about Morris. I would paraphrase the question being posed as: "Is Morris dying?"
As a "lifer" in Morris I have the license to admit the question gets broached from time to time. But usually not in such a public way.
We have always been a little defensive out here in West Central Minnesota, hitching our wagon to the University of Minnesota as if we'd surely be doomed without it. The closing of Coborn's has stimulated much more of the negative talk.
It's unfortunate because in the final analysis, we have always found the community to have both feet firmly on the ground.
It's here to stay like rock 'n roll.
We attach the word "prairie" to this town so readily. We recently celebrated our annual Prairie Pioneer Days in what seemed like pretty hardy fashion.
I'm not sure the word "prairie" is the most advisable to attach to Morris. The word implies emptiness. It doesn't help having that word hovering over us as we begin to hear this talk of whether we're slowly sliding into troubling obscurity.
What is Morris known for besides "prairie?" Surely we can think of something - another word that denotes some distinct quality of the community.
I have become accustomed to the occasional naysayers who sense decline, yet the years go by and people generally seem to be content. High school reunions project the feeling that this is still "home" to all - "if only in our dreams," as the Christmas song lyrics suggest.
Yes, we have now lost our 24-hour grocery store. But maybe we should all be sleeping at night.
I took a long walk on the outskirts of Morris very late on a recent Saturday night and had a police officer in an unmarked vehicle pull up beside me. Maybe it's nice to live in a small town where the mere sight of a lone walker on a dark highway shoulder prompts the police to pay attention.
At least I couldn't be cited for no seat belt (LOL).
But is Morris really dying in a manner as speculated upon in the newspaper column?
It's fine for such talk to sprout in the local coffee shops, but I'm not sure it warrants such an official forum.
If the local paper is concerned about community decay, maybe it should look in the mirror. The paper has gotten smaller by any yardstick you want to employ, and does anyone think it puts any special oomph into its news product? The shrinkage has been marked.
The paper foists ad circulars on us incessantly that promote commerce outside of Morris - outside of Stevens County in fact. To the extent that all this advertising has pushed even more local consumer dollars to Alexandria or elsewhere, maybe the paper is a primary culprit in whatever economic travails are seen.
Coborn's was a good neighbor in this town for a long time but it's gone now. It's profoundly sad for their employees.
But I'm sure business is considerably more brisk for Willie's Super Valu.
Think back to when Willie's was in its previous location. The store was so much smaller and more humble in its atmosphere. Of course, wherever the late Willie Martin presided, the atmosphere had to be nothing but classy.
The iconic Willie stayed with us long enough to oversee the move "across the street," to where the new and palatial Willie's is now located. It has been a while since that move, so a lot of people take the "new" store for granted now.
When I first visited the new store, I was awestruck, thinking that it was almost too much for me. On the outside it looks like a big casino. Inside there seems to be enough space to play a baseball game.
Getting to the point here, maybe Morris wasn't big enough to sustain both this store and Coborn's. A struggle slowly developed and Willie's won.
I'm not sure any of this points to any community decline or decay. It means we have a state of the art grocery store that has cornered the market. We just can't make a dash there at 2 a.m. to get a carton of milk of loaf of bread. Or buy gas.
But we all seem to be getting by just fine. And we should be in bed anyway, not scurrying around town or out walking along the bypass and being accosted by police.
At least I wasn't attacked by the black bear (LOL again).
It seems questionable for police to be out and around in unmarked vehicles because people aren't going to accord them the kind of respect they would if the cars were standard cop cars.
When I see a cop car I slow down, make sure my seat belt is on (which might require distracted driving for a few seconds), make sure I use my blinker and make total stops (not those rolling "California stops" as a former MHS band director would call them when giving us a lift, initials J.W.).
Maybe all the seat belt citations are chasing people away from Morris. What is the cost of these now? $110? Wasn't it considerably lower not long ago? In six months will it be $150? Or $200?
My friend Glen Helberg calls this the "creeping effect" of our financial anxieties. I don't think the official inflation statistics take into account all the price hikes. They're all over the place, like for getting a haircut or - gasp - seeing the dentist.
I mean, you try to do the right thing in seeing the dentist to promote health, but then he says "you need a filling under a crown" and you'd better be prepared to head downstairs and print more money.
I know one thing you can do without: the newspaper. We've decided we don't even want the Ad-Viser in our home. It's all superfluous.
And, there's no need for any of the columnists down there to stoke discussion of whether Morris is going downhill or dying. These "coffee shop" type of comments should just stay there.
Morris will be just fine, and content and safe.
Maybe we should just ditch the word "prairie." Morris doesn't conform to my image of a pure prairie anyway, as I associate that term with the flat-as-a-board topography that you find to the west. Just drive to Wheaton and you'll vividly see this.
Anyone who has never seen such topography before will be just as awestruck as someone viewing a mountain range for the first time.
How can anyone have a sense of "place" in the "pure" prairie surroundings? There seems to be no identifying features. But people adjust and they can be quite content.
Flooding is a danger along the Red River because the water spreads out as if on a table.
No flood worries in Morris. Or oil spills. We're not in "tornado alley" and we don't have fire ants or rattlesnakes. Indeed we are blessed, even without an all-night grocery store.
Rock 'n roll is here to stay, it will never die, and neither will Morris.
-Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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