INGRAM:  Worst Place Turns Out To Be Best


Worst Place To Live?

Oneonta Family Enjoys It!

Local readers of Reader’s Digest were surprised and delighted this week to discover Christopher Ingraham’s account about a story he wrote on the “ugliest” community in America ended up luring the Washington Post reporter and his family from the Baltimore suburbs to northwest Minnesota. (Ian Austin/
















The following May we moved to Red Lake Falls. Our family – me; Briana; Jack; Charles; Tiber, our 70-pound beagle-basset mix; and Ivy, our 12-year-old cat – arrived on a Sunday. The closing on the house was scheduled for the following day, but the previous owners, the Kleins, told us they’d leave the door open and the keys on the kitchen counter.

We hadn’t even gotten the kids out of their car seats before we were enthusiastically greeted by our new neighbor, who wanted to know whether we played any instruments because there was a great little
community band and they were always looking for new players. The Brumwells and the Kleins came over to help us get all our stuff out of the moving van. A few neighbors wandered over to pitch in as well, and with their help, we wrapped up the job in just a couple of hours.

It was an auspicious beginning, and our family quickly acclimated to small town life. Briana volunteered for the Civic and Commerce committee and was persuaded to run for city council, an election she handily won. The boys soon thrived under the personal attention at J.A. Hughes Elementary – even Charlie, who was diagnosed with autism and might’ve gotten lost in the crowd in a larger public School, like the one we had left in Maryland.

Most of the things we missed, including curry paste, sparkling wine, and books the tiny library doesn’t offer, we were able to order online or ask local proprietors to stock for us. We found plenty of culture and diversity, although we had to actively seek it out rather than experiencing the world simply by walking down the street, the way you can in a big city. The twins, now six, have spent more birthdays in Minnesota than they did in Maryland. And we have another son, William, who is three.

I can honestly say that there would have been no William had we not moved to Red Lake Falls.

It is my job to write about data. I’m a big believer in its power. But our relocation has been a humbling reminder of the limitations of numbers. It has opened my eyes to all the things that get lost when you abstract people, places, and points in time down to a number on a computer screen.

Yes, the government’s natural amenities index accurately captures the flatness of Midwestern farm country. The summer heat. The bitter winter cold. But it misses so much about that landscape: the sound of the breeze rustling the grain or the way the wheat catches the light, the dry-sweet smell of a field of sunflowers. It doesn’t tell you how a family can keep itself warm through the coldest of winters by building igloos and sledding down the town hill. Or how the vast winter night sky shines with the light of thousands of stars that people who live in cities will never know.

It doesn’t tell you about the heat put off by a big roaring fire in a park at the darkest time of the year, how the glow dances on the faces of those gathered around.

The people of Red Lake Falls bring light to the darkness and warmth to the cold. Glancing around the bonfire at last winter’s train lighting ceremony, when everyone clapped and cheered, I felt certain:
We were home.


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