Inner City Diary
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True Community: To Know and be Known
April 18, 2004
Last weekend, our family enjoyed a short visit to Marion, South Dakota. Aside from having a great time visiting with family, this visit was particularly instructive about the meaning of community.

We visited to celebrate Easter with Virginia’s family and her mom’s 80th birthday. At first blush, one might figure Marion, with its population of 900 people, doesn’t have much to offer visitors. There’s no spectacular illuminated bridges, no arenas, no rivers, and no remarkable tourist attractions. But communities are more than the sum total of their tourist traps. And I’ve come to appreciate Marion for lots of different reasons.

Shortly after arriving in town, I picked up a local paper. What I found was instructive not only about small-town life in Marion, but also about big city attitudes and problems in Winnipeg.

There were the obvious differences. There was the front page story about the addition of two different storage bins for 1.6 million bushels of grain. The size of the structure and concept of storing that much grain was staggering for this city slicker.

Scanning the front page, I also quickly got the idea that perhaps the most significant news in Marion related to their kids. Local businesses sponsored an Easter egg hunt. A report of the High School junior-senior prom. Achievements of youth were highlighted. Several high school students were profiled.

There was a great story about local high school students that voluntarily partnered with 25 seniors (called “town elders”) to tutor them on computer skills.

There was lots of news about local seniors, as well as related groups and programs. I sensed a bit more respect for elders there than I feel from many people around our neighbourhood.

There was a section entitled “Down Memory Lane,” with snippets of newspapers from 70, 50 and 30 years ago. From fifty years ago: “We know for sure that there is clean money in Marion. The other day one of Bill Tieszen’s overalls was run through the washing machine during the weekly wash. When ready to wring out the overalls, the ladies found a roll of bills in one of the pockets. The money came out clean and practically good as new.” Now that’s a marked difference from recent money laundering stories in Winnipeg.

The County advertised the $20 daily rental of a 110 gallon weed and pest sprayer. I figure that’s even one step beyond privatization. Looking around our neighbourhood lately, I’d definitely consider renting one of those “street sweeper” or “mobile vacuum” trucks for a day just to clean up a few back lanes in our neighbourhood.

My boys went out one evening to play basketball with their cousins in the playground of the local high school. They were shocked when a local cop drove by and informed them that they needed to be home before curfew.

All weekend, our boys noticed the bikes unlocked and unguarded on front lawns and sidewalks. This seemed to amaze them more than anything else.

City council published a summary of their minutes on page seven. They included the name of the guy that got paid $275 to renovate the men’s bathroom at City Hall. They even published the 10 cent per hour raise given one of their employees, Terry Lape, bringing his salary up to $10.10 per hour.

The school board published the agenda for the upcoming school board meeting and even published the school lunch menu for the following week.

I scanned the rest of the paper, unprepared for the biggest shock of all – the “Local News” section.

Here in Winnipeg, the local news section usually includes news of beatings, shootings, political conflicts or bureaucratic gaffes.

In the small town paper, it seemed people were reporting much more personal things. One couple received numerous mentions in different paragraphs. First, it was noted that they visited Sylvia, Agnes and Wanda at the Tieszen Home on March 26th. A few paragraphs later, it was noted that the same couple were breakfast guests of Rev. and Mrs. Marv Wall at the Prairie Grill on March 27th. A few paragraphs later, someone reported that they were seen at the Schmeckfest at Freeman on April 2nd.

I shook my head with both humour and trepidation. If such news appeared in the “local news” section of Winnipeg dailies, I’m sure somebody would be getting sued for breaching privacy or anti-stalking legislation.

I know it’s not a perfect town. And part of me would be nervous living in a place where everyone knows almost everything about everyone else.

But perhaps we city slickers have moved too far in the opposite direction, cloaked in all our pseudo-sophistication, privacy legislation and big brother paranoia. We’ve lost a little too much of the blessing of knowing and being known by the people around us.
Copyright 2004
Rev. Harry Lehotsky
Rev. Harry Lehotsky is Director of New Life Ministries, a community ministry in the inner-city of Winnipeg, Manitoba.
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