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Small-town living isn’t for everyone

By Staff | Feb 19, 2010

“Home is the place that when you go there, they have to take you in.”

-Robert Frost

Well, apparently not in Hazelton, ND. There’s an Associated Press story that was recently released about a couple and their two children who moved from Florida to North Dakota four years ago and now they are headed back to Miami. “Florida couple gives up on small-town North Dakota” was the headline.

They moved to North Dakota to get away from the threat of crime and danger of drugs. The taxes are low, the cost of living is low, their kids enjoy the school. There’s that and free land, too.

Apparently we can’t make people like small-town living even if we give it away. Hazelton, like many small towns desperate to draw in new residents, was offering families up to two free lots and up to $20,000 towards home purchases.

The family is moving back to Florida for various reasons. Apparently, the dwindling town of 240 residents weren’t very welcoming. The Florida family found a cliquey community that treated them like outsiders.

The story stated how the move was a “culture shock.” They said they were prepared for the bitter winters, but not the small-town drama claiming that people prejudge you without getting to know you.

The story also explained that the patriarch of the family rolled into town wearing gold necklaces, a Rolex watch and driving a Lexus. While I’m no expert on small-town living, if he wanted to stand out, that’s sounds like the perfect plan. He said people in Hazelton thought he was a drug dealer.

I grew up about 25 miles from Hazelton. I’ve been there many times. I know it’s a typical small town in many ways – good and bad.

So, which is better/worse? Anonymity in the big city or intimacy in a small town? In a big city it’s easy to avoid the people you don’t like. In a small town, you have to learn to live with them and get used to seeing them everywhere.

Some people complain about the gossip that runs rampant in a small town. Sure, we can’t deny that it’s a problem in some places. But only if you let yourself get caught up in it.

In a small town, if you are the topic of gossip you will surely hear about it. But I always look at it sort of like the weather. It might be bad for a while, but it will eventually pass. The gossipers will move on to someone else eventually. In a big town, however, you might be the topic of the gossip, but you will likely not even ever hear about it.

The story rehashes the age-old argument – what’s better: small town versus big city life? I say it depends on what you really want out of life. Your small-town experience will be as fulfilling as you choose to make it.

Nobody moves into town and becomes instantly well-liked and accepted. You have to try to blend in, learn the local culture and then carve out your own way. Should someone compromise themselves in order to fit in? No, but you have to realize that the Rolex and Lexus approach isn’t going to work in small- town North Dakota.

It’s clear that this small-town living experiment didn’t work out so well for anyone. The family, who at one time called the move to Hazelton an “answer to their prayers” is now headed back to Florida. And Hazelton and the entire state of North Dakota got some little-needed bad press.

The story’s tone was very negative toward Hazelton and the entire state. The woman of the family stated that, “No one really wants new people here.”

That couldn’t be further from the truth. We welcome productive citizens who get involved and pitch in. We respect those trustworthy, honest people who work hard to earn what’s coming to them. We are sometimes leery of people who roll into town on the promise of free land and money and then flash gold jewelry and expensive luxury cars.

I suspect these people weren’t ready for small-town living at all. And to blame the residents of Hazelton is completely unfair.

Mullally is a Tribune writer.

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