with equal parts compassion & hilarity

A stop light: the newest addition to Lake Park, MN

My small town has a stop light and I don’t know how to cope.

I heard the rumblings that a stop light might be added at the intersection of Highway 10 and the main drag of the town. To be completely honest, I don’t even know the name of the “main drag” because you don’t need to know the names of streets in small towns. You just need to know that the “main drag” goes right by the Casey’s gas station and the shop where this highly mechanically literate guy fixes up really old trucks. (Don’t believe me? Check it out here.)

While I didn’t pay too much attention to the rumors, I did hear that a primary reason for the stop light was to improve traffic control. During the summer months tourists swarm lakes country of which my small town is very much a part of. It made sense to me because during that time it can be nearly impossible to turn onto Highway 10 let alone cross it.

Still, I hadn’t given the stop light much thought until it was up and in place.

The first time I saw it, my husband was driving and I nearly screamed. (He hates when I do that, especially when he’s driving.) I suddenly found myself disliking everything about it which totally took me by surprise. Nonetheless, its shiny new metal, the way its lights shone brilliantly, the way that vehicles were stopped in obedience to its bold red light caused my mouth to fill with disgust.

“What is happening to my 800 person population little town of Lake Park, MN?! And, how come nobody asked for my opinion or vast feelings on this addition?!”, I wondered aloud. 

(You should know that I have not lived in Lake Park for years.)

You see, John and I were driving to his parent’s place when I saw the stop light for the first time. We were heading to our home where we grew up (my childhood home is just 6 miles from John’s childhood home).

Home is where things are supposed to be the same. Where you wake up and know what to expect. Where you look around and know what you’re going to see. Where the people, the behaviors, the smells, the sounds, and the sights are all quietly familiar.

The stop light was an aggressive, unwelcome disruption to my sense and remembrance of home. It sort of felt like a visual representation of growing up (i.e. getting smacked in the face repeatedly), and at 24 years old, I’m still very much growing up.

It’s like this: everything is the quietly familiar way that it is and I’m relatively comfortable. When I look out to my surroundings, the people, the behaviors, the smells, the sounds, and the sights, I can relax into the comforting noise.

Then, one day, I look out and it feels as if my surroundings are glaringly unfamiliar. They’re sort of the same, but so different. The love is still present in their voice and the quilt on the couch is the same one that I’ve had since my mom made it for me when I was 10, but the hurt they carry is different and the color of the couch is a shade darker than I really wanted.

Initially, I demand to look at those things in outrage and disbelief. How could you react to your growing pains so much differently than how I reacted to mine? How could I let myself be talked into getting the couch that is a shade darker? How could you put a stop light in Lake Park, the city I used to describe to my friends in Minneapolis as having not a single stop light?

Simply though, Lake Park got a stop light because it is growing which is the opposite of dying. Of course I don’t want the town to die. Frankly, there’s just too many cute houses with original hardwood floors for it to die.

Yes, I logically understand the reasons for the stop light. Traffic control is healthy, will help to ensure safety, and blah, blah, blah. I get it – Lake Park adding a stop light is a good move.

The change reminds me of last August when my dad and brother and the neighbors rented a giant boom and took down 30 trees in the yard of my childhood home. Some of those trees were dying and some were teetering dangerously close to the roof of my dad’s house where he sleeps at night. The trees needed to come down. I wasn’t too keen on all the trees leaving because my heart was attached to the big bunch of bass trees that I used to sketch in elementary school.

However, because my dad didn’t ask for my opinion or my overwhelmingly mixed feelings on the issue, they did come down. Now there is so much more light in the backyard! Next summer, green grass will probably replace the moss and dirt that was formerly in that space.

Similarly, my surroundings changing is healthy. It isn’t fair to expect the people, the behaviors, the smells, the sounds, and the sights to all remain the same forever. All of those things are changing in their own turn because they, too, are growing and not dying. And, they will continue to change in following seasons because, near as I can tell at this moment, this is not their final season.

Some seasons involve dead trees and some seasons involve better traffic control and safety. We’ve all got ’em and it seems like we all have to experience all kinds of them.

I suppose then, that my greatest hope is that at the close of their final season, the people, the behaviors, the smells, the sounds, and the sights are magnificent butterflies. Realistically speaking, I really don’t think that’s too much to hope for.

So, Lake Park getting a stop light is a small step on its journey for it to become magnificent butterfly. That is the answer to coping with the stop light, I think (and the people, behaviors, smells, sounds, sights). The stop light is simply part of the story as the town is becoming.

P.S. Despite all this profound realization, I’m still having a really hard time with the Dollar General that is going up in the neighboring township, Cormorant. Cormorant is the best because its most recent mayor was Duke, the dog. Also, I’d like to point out that it’s really not even a real town – it’s a township – and it’s getting a Dollar General. What is this?

Dollar General is sweeping the nation and causing anxiety to small town people who can’t handle change. Okay, ME. Dollar General is causing ME anxiety.

Obviously I’m still working through the Dollar General thing.

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