Rural editors should think of their newspapers as the diary of a country town, a community journal.
Years later the record of life in a place such as Lindsborg and the Smoky Valley would read as an accumulation of accomplishments, with the occasional hiccup. The ascent is gradual and setbacks are inevitable from time to time, a learning process along the way to improvement – two steps up, a step back, then two up and so forth. Gain and refinement are never achieved smoothly. Whitley Austin, the late legendary editor of The Salina Journal used to say, “We strive to save the world and survive by pratfall.”
A good country journal contains the necessary accounts of official business, of the crucial machinery of local government and the citizens elected to move its gears, keep them lubricated, ensure the need for maintenance and avoid the cost of neglect; careful planning, prudent investment, efficient and equitable taxation are each a part of the stories building as chapters in that diary.
“Today our council wisely noted at its hearing on the budget a difference between being frugal and being cheap,” one chapter might begin.
Official business aside, other pages glow with accounts of a place that accepts the vicissitudes of community life and enfolds the passions, pursuits and destinies of noble men and women, their concerns, their hopes, and surveys the work and aspirations of people who were important but not necessarily famous. “Yesterday on the way to the hardware store,” the diary notes, “we had a chat with the men who were on their knees in the street digging, cleaning bricks, measuring, then replacing them one at a time, tucking them in place with sand; over summer and in the ghastly heat each day they made their way down the avenue a brick, a foot, a yard at a time. The city administrator says brick streets are the most durable and least expensive to maintain in the long run. Some of the bricks here are a hundred years old or more. A lot of people have worked hard to keep them.”
A community that advances is a community on solid history, one that embraces its heritage. Festivals can be a kind of homecoming, a refresher course, reminders of our past. Since 1971 Lindsborg has celebrated the revival of Midsummers to confirm generations of Swedish tradition while encouraging new ventures and refining old ones; Midsummers has reflected the color and energy of life in a prairie town, bringing gaiety to new levels. “We take our celebrating seriously,” the diary would say, “we’re devoted to our heritage, to build on it.”
Four months later, Hyllningsfest, a biennial tribute to the community’s ancestors who settled in the Valley nearly 150 years ago, founded a town, built a college, created a community bound in genius and courage, offered promise to the next generations and, ultimately, hope to mankind. The determination, skill and intellect of these pioneers, the architects of this society, cannot be overplayed. In the beginning they carried little more than a desire to worship freely, a love of beauty, and a will that they survive.
“Dear Diary,” an entry would say, “A terrible storm tonight, we could see it coming, a great roiling of dark green rumbling up from the south; the landscape went silent and uneasy, wary. Darkness came heaving toward us with a spitting rain, coughing gusts of chilled air. Everyone began to walk sideways, uneasiness turning them like a magnet toward the specter of looming violence.”
Such entries are less about cruel meteorology and nature’s indifference and more about the enduring nature of people who live in harsh spaces: special, violent events can incubate an overwhelming backwash of selflessness and charity. “There was a terrible flood,” an entry began for August four summers ago, “and the City and the community turned themselves inside out, helping.”
From shared determination came a community bound to progress, to aspire, to achieve.
“Dear Diary,” it might be entered, “We thank the Almighty and our forefathers that evolution has been kind to us, for we continue to embrace the arts, pursue the sciences, encourage the interplay of ideas, all kinds of ideas. We are thankful for each other, still.”
The Midsummer Festival, with ground zero at Riverside Park and a stone’s throw from the county’s Old Mill Museum and Heritage Square, can be a glorious reminiscence. The colors, the artisans, the music and games, the stories, all that comprise the event come from long ago, from a time when hope moved a citizenry to accomplish the incredible.
“Today we realize that people like us are everywhere,” the journal would say, “that we share involvement in a common history – a history of anguish and at times cruelty and hardship, but also of courage and warmth and rare nobility, a history that gives us some feel of ourselves, and will help us to endure.”
‒ JOHN MARSHALL