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Small towns in rough times

So, what's going to happen to our little prairie towns in these difficult economic times?

For once, we rural folks may benefit from being so completely out of the loop.

Our home prices never shot up in the countryside, so we didn't borrow against the crazy increased values to buy things we didn't need.

Few of us work for large companies so as corporations lay off workers, the pain will fall on the cities and suburbs more than on the countryside.

The farm economy isn't half bad, at least for the farmers who were able to get their crops off fields during last fall's wet weather.

The biofuels business is likely to continue in some shape or form, which is good for commodity prices. Good crops and decent prices still help out the local economy, even though we're down to about a dozen farmers per county.

There will be cutbacks in state spending, but small-town schools and nursing homes are still likely to provide a good base of secure jobs.

It helps that even in the best of times, prosperity in the countryside is small peanuts compared to the boom that happened on Wall Street or the crazy profits in the real estate sector in places like the Twin Cities.

In other words, we never fly very high so we don't have very far to fall.

It is also helpful that the countryside of the Upper Midwest is one place where living frugally is still more reputable than running up your credit card to buy junk you don't need.

Oh, every now and then somebody gets too big for their britches and builds extra houses and buys time-shares in Bermuda and cars we're all supposed to be impressed by even though we can't pronounce the name -- but then comes the divorce and it all gets sold off and the rest of us pat ourselves on the back for still driving a 10-year-old Ford Ranger.

Even those of us who never adopted the Great Depression habits of our grandparents still have those habits memorized. We could return to them in a snap.

I always felt guilty that the previous generations had to eat chicken livers and pickled pigs ears and could only drive to town once per week after their weekly bath.

Every time I throw away a cereal box which contains perfectly good wax paper; or discard aluminum foil that could be uncrinkled, rinsed off and used again; or worst of all, open a gift by tearing apart the wrapping paper that could otherwise have been used again next Christmas, I feel like I am betraying my ancestors.

If we have another Depression and we have to start raising chickens and pickling pigs ears again, at least we could say to our long-dead grandparents, "See, we can do it, too! You no longer have a monopoly on suffering and virtue!"

In that sense, hard times would be sort of a relief. We younger generations would no longer have to feel guilty for having it so easy.

On second thought, I take that back. I don't wish hard times on anybody, particularly myself. The sense of satisfaction wouldn't be worth eating chicken feet, sharing bathwater or butchering a turkey.

Yes, I have a nice little patch of land that I could fence in and have a couple of cows and some sheep and a pig or two.

But the first time one of those pigs got sick, or the cow got bloated--or worse yet, pregnant--I wouldn't have a clue what to do. The cow would die of my ignorance.

And if I were to depend upon a garden for food, the deer would get in there in early July and wreck everything and I would get so angry that I could no longer buy fresh pre-washed lettuce in a bag that I would graze on the grass like a crazed Old Testament king.

So, as lucky as we people in the small town are in these tough economic times, let's hope that we don't have to return to the 1930s.

In particularly, let's hope we don't have to lose our Internet. Or our cell phones. Or our dishwashers. Or our air conditioning. Or our microwaves.

We country folks are tough, but there are limits.