That's Life: New York State of Mind

Bender, Tony. "That's Life: New York State of Mind." Ashley Tribune, 6 August 2003, 4.

Remember the rock band, Dr. Hook? They looked like a wreck between a shipload of pirates and a VW full of hippies. They had this goal, though, and they accomplished it; they made the cover of Rolling Stone.

Well, North Dakota did even better last week, specifically, McIntosh County and even more specifically, Ashley. We made the front page of the New York Times below the fold, but whos quibbling?

North Dakotans are not unaccustomed to making national news. When there is a horrendous blizzard out here, three feet of snow and wind chills lower than your tech stock, folks on the East Coast moan at the thought of it all, and feel smug and superior. Then, New York has three inches of snow, and it shuts Manhattan down, with bleak photos of hardy New Yorkers leaning into a 20-mph wind (Oh my!) on a deserted, snow-covered street. North Dakotans think one thing when we see weather like that: Picnic!

This time the news was good. Longtime New York Times reporter Peter Kilborn spent a few days, as he says, nosing around, trying to figure why it is that McIntosh County has the longest-lived people in the entire country. Why do we have so many people over the age of 85? Because all the young ones left, I told Peter.

Not necessarily so, said Peter.

Is too. Is not.

Thus went the debate. The difference being that Peter went out to research it, while I sat back knowing I was right.

Turns out, I wasn't. The theory is that among the Germans from Russia, hardy souls who survived hard climates and oppressive governments, harsh voyages with hard labor and famine as their reward, only the strongest survived. And we are the descendants of the toughest.

Its the sort of talk that gets you hung on the gallows of political correctness if the topic strays past caucasians.

It was a marvelous story, sensible in its findings, with a hint of affection for this place and its people wriggling out from between the lines.

Ashleyans were ecstatic. Somebody from New Yorkyes, that New York and the newspaper that I told my son is the greatest in the whole world, came out to explore our community in the spirit of understanding and not as if visiting a carnival freak show populated by accordion-playing, thick-accented geezers.

You know what? Peter got it right. The hunch-backed old farmers walked taller last week. The lame limped less and we were reminded that, hell yes, we are tougher than the steak at a three-dollar buffet.

There are so many things clawing at rural communities these days, even tough old German-Russians can feel beat down and vulnerable. But today, in one small county of 3,100, were feeling strong. What aging population? Out here, at 65, were just hitting our stride.

One man came out and told the truth and reminded us of who we are and where we come from. We discovered things about ourselves we did not know that forest for the trees thing.

At the Ashley Tribune, we were inundated with e-mailed links to the July 31 New York Times. Folks dropped off ink-jet copies of the story. The phone rang off the hook Didja hear? Didja see? Isnt that something? Isnt that great?

Ralph Oberlander bought one for us at the Indianapolis airport where he works, realizing later he had driven his motorcycle that day and had no way to carry the newspaper. So he sat on it. He sent it overnight by FedEx, complete with the outline of his butt creased into the paper. I gave that one to Jane.

The BBC's Good Morning Ulster called me at midnight last night to talk about the story. They tried all the old folks, but there was some kegger still going strong out at Lake Hoskins, and no one was home yet.

Ulster wanted to know if our longevity can be attributed to diet. I told them I thought we lived so long in spite of our diet. After all, we mainline sausage and snort kuchen.

What is it, then? she asked in a lovely Irish lilt.

Stubbornness, I think. If it has something to do with all the beer we drink, then the Irish must be immortal. She laughed.

I will refrain from publically thanking Peter for his story. Funny thing about journalists, they do not really want thanks for a story well done, because maybe thanks indicates they've done someone a favor, granted a gift that wasnt earned, and where's the objectivity in that?

We ought not be surprised that hard work, doggedness and insight still exist, that jobs are still done right. Fairness exists. Truth triumphs.

Look around.

Happens every day.

Reprinted with permission of the Ashley Tribune.

Permission to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested by contacting Michael M. Miller