Wednesday, January 27, 2010


I just returned from a trip in Idaho. I invited several friends to come ski at a couple of small resorts near my parents’ home in that corner of the world. We all had a great time. After the ski trip, I stayed and spent a few extra days with my folks. My mom said it was “quality time,” but she kept me plenty busy doing little jobs for her. We laid out the front of a quilt to be raffled for the 50th class reunion at the local high school and I did some simple line-drawings for the mascot. My dad had me edit an article he’d written for the newspaper regarding the new Legion Hall. I did a little tech-support on the computer for them (a first for me), a little electrical work (okay, it was reconnecting loose wires, but still), a little cleaning and a lot of cooking. It was easy and satisfying work, since most of her—and my father’s—projects involve their community.

My folks are very active in their town. My dad is the Commander of the American Legion there. His latest project was organizing a war memorial for local soldiers. He convinced the Army to lend them a Howitzer for the centerpiece. (I’m not sure what happens if they decide to take it back, but that doesn’t seem to bother my dad.) He is also active in the local Boy Scout troop, as he has been since my brother was old enough to don the uniform. My mother runs a charity that provides Christmas gifts to needy families. She started it over twenty years ago and last year, it helped over 300 children. The program coordinates with the local food bank, several churches and community groups to provide gifts, food and the small necessities to make Christmas merry. It’s a generous, heart-warming enterprise. My parents’ initiative and involvement have sparked others to participate and spread that neighborliness around. Between them, I think they know everyone in town.

They live quite a bit west of the true U.S. “Heartland” but that doesn’t seem to make much difference. Pancake breakfasts, charity raffles, a Main Street with no stoplight, the Elk’s Lodge: it’s all there and more. It is the best, and sometimes the worst—let’s not be glib—of community life. Neighbors help neighbors when they can and, more than a little, gossip about the situation while they lend a hand. That winding vine of chitchat is often the way word of triumph travels. I can’t say there isn’t back-biting, but when the news is tragic, the help flows even faster.

As I was flying eastward yesterday, it occurred to me that I live in the Heartland, too. For all its hustle, bustle and 1.5 million inhabitants, Philadelphia has a heart as big and true as Dunnell, Minnesota, Adair, Oklahoma or Bucklin, Missouri. In some sense, we all live in the Heartland of this country. That’s why we write—and read—stories set in these communities, both small and large. The heart is what matters and the larger it is on the inside, the better it makes the community on the outside.

So, hello from my Heartland to yours. Hey! Be sure to buy a ticket for the local quilt raffle. You can’t win if you don’t get involved.


Linda Henderson said...

I grew up in small town America in Kansas and now I live in a medium size city in Missouri. So I know all about the heartland. Your parents sound like wonderful people with all their community service. I wish more people were like that.

Lynn said...

Lisa, thanks for the post. Everytime I see a mention of Idaho, my home state, I scan the post to see if I can figure out where the poster is talking about.

I guess I miss home just a little. But you're right, hometowns are all over. I lived in a small town in Illinois three years ago and from the town square to the three festivals a year, you would have thought it was Mayberry.

(A couple small ski resorts, hmmm, can't be Sun Valley... it's too small to be Boise... so I'm thinking it's up north....)

Lisa Ruff said...

I am a small town girl who lives in the big city. I think the best part of going back is to renew that small-town-ness in my soul. It helps me remember what's important and how to see that same generosity of spirit here.

Pamela Stone said...

I grew up in Dallas and later Fort Worth. However both sets of grandparents lived in a very small town about 50 miles south of Dallas. I spent a few weeks each summer there and it was like a different world. One of my grandmothers was even queen of the gossip grapevine. I must say, she and her friends kept me entertained.

Lisa Ruff said...

I'm no going to admit how much of the dialog I write comes from what I've heard around town. ;)

Pamela Stone said...

And I'm not going to admit how much one of the characters in my 2011 release is based on my grandmother and her friends.

Silver Valley Girl said...

Such a nice tribute to our little "heartland" here in Idaho. You described the spirit of this area so well. And the spirit of your parents as well. Again, such a pleasure to see you, if only briefly, and hope to see you this summer at the all class reunion if it works out.

Maybe your next romance can be based on two people who find romance through their local community theater....just a thought. Ha! Ha!

Estella said...

I have always lived in small towns. Love them!