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Column: This is a home town to be proud of

This year the icy spring morphed right into a beautiful summer. Overnight the grass turned lush and patches of irises bloomed all over town with huge lacy violet flowers. As I write this, I am far away from my hometown, and I feel a little catch in my throat as I think of the tiger lilies alongside my patio opening their brilliant orange petals.

Last year I took a new teaching job in a small town north of the Twin Cities. While my new job is a perfect fit, commuting a hundred miles every day was taking its toll. One snowy morning, after being trapped on the roads for three hours, I arrived 10 minutes late for my class. As I ran towards the knot of students in front of the classroom door, I felt terrible. I was supposed to be there to let them in, and I let them down. I knew I didn't want to repeat this scene every snow day.

The next weekend I made the difficult choice to put my house up for sale. The weeks went by in a flurry of packing. When you are still in a place you love, it is difficult to imagine ever leaving, even when you are in the midst of preparing to leave. As long as you are busy cleaning toilets and scrubbing the garage floor, you can't imagine the moment when you say goodbye.

Finally the time came to clear out the house, and move all the boxes to my new place. The strange thing about being in a place for 15 years is you don't notice how much stuff you've accumulated until it is time to move it. There was old camping gear, two Christmas trees, and a ton of old bookshelves. Hiding in the basement was the couch my cats scratched up and a massive set of dishes used only on holidays. I had no idea how to get all of this stuff to Goodwill in my tiny hatchback or sit out in the cold trying to sell it at a garage sale.

Then a light bulb went off. Behavioral economist Dan Ariely did a research study where he sold Hershey's kisses to college students for a penny on one day, and gave them away free on another. He discovered "free" was a magical word. Students who would not pay a penny for a piece of chocolate would make a beeline across a crowded cafeteria for a free piece. I decided to use Ariely's idea and hold a "free" sale for charity.

We posted the free sale on Craigslist, hauled all of our stuff out to the garage, and hung a few signs asking for donations to the Animal Ark Shelter in Hastings. People swarmed into the garage as soon as we opened the door. Our neighbors happily took the scratched couch for their son to bring to college. The donation box was filling up.

Ariely's research turned out to be 100 percent correct. People drove from Cannon Falls for an old bookcase, just like a student walking across campus for the free Hershey's kiss. But something happened that no one could have predicted. The people who stopped by our house to pick up our old stuff donated $586 to the animal shelter. Maybe in any town people will drive miles to pick up used camping gear. But only in Farmington would our neighbors give so generously.

After the house was empty, rooms bare and clean, it was time to drive north. That last drive up Pilot Knob road was like so many others before it, a mug of Kwik Trip coffee in my hand. The moonlight sparkled on the snow blanketing the corn fields. A stand of trees that once sheltered a farm house cast long blue shadows.

A few years ago I bought a blanket with pictures of Farmington landmarks woven into the fabric as a fundraiser for the senior center. Among the landmarks are pictures of the Exchange Bank Building and the old St. Michael's Catholic Church. On those chilly nights when I am homesick for my hometown, I wrap that blanket around my shoulders and pull it tight. I feel like I've got a little piece of my hometown wrapped around me.

I won't say goodbye, even though this is my last column. I'll be back for Dew Days and the county fair this summer, and every summer. Farmington will always be my hometown. But I will miss all of my friends and neighbors, and the beautiful patch of tiger lilies in my yard. Thank you for all of the kindness you have shown me over the years, and thank you for being an avid reader of my column. Farmington is a place you can be proud to call home.

This was Mary Lebens' final column for the Independent Town Pages

Nathan Hansen

Nathan Hansen has been a reporter and editor with the Farmington Independent and the Rosemount Town Pages since 1997. He is very tall.

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