Visiting the Village

By Ellen Parker, author of Starr Tree Farm

Starr Tree FarmLaura Starr Tanner’s move to Crystal Springs, Wisconsin opens the curtain on a new portion of her life, that of resident in a tiny, quiet village. Crystal Springs will not appear on a road atlas or a Mapquest search. The small village where Laura and Brad’s story takes place is a creation from my memory, observation, and facts supplied by residents of a similar location.

One of my first obstacles when I decided to create Crystal Springs was to get the details of present day life correct. While memories from childhood and high school formed a basis, they required updating. I needed to add more than the outward changes noted during short, spaced visits to friends and relatives. So how much is true?

According to the sign at the village limits, my model has grown from 383 to 534 since my high school years. The branch bank was new and two full service grocery stores plus one smaller one conducted business within three blocks of each other back then. The grocery stores closed one by one through the years and today the lone remaining gas station has expanded a few items into a well-stocked convenience store to fill the need. Cafes open for decades closed. Now the best (only) restaurant in town functions with a liquor license transferred from a tavern down the street and occupies a portion of the former nursing home. Back in the day, the site, but not the remaining building, was a small hospital.

Brad and Laura live in a current, modern village. The garden club maintains flower boxes by the public buildings and more extensive beds in the park. The volunteer fire department, ambulance service, or the county sheriff’s department is only a 911 call away. The high school is an important institution that ties the community together, along with the churches and American Legion Post. And while the rural letter carrier describes it as looking out for each other, a newcomer may be intimidated by curious neighbors and a gossip grapevine more efficient than the internet. (Accuracy of both are still to be determined.)

Dairy farms predominated in this portion of Wisconsin for over a century. Cows are still important to the economy and placing Brad’s family on a dairy with a milking parlor fits right in. Children do leave the farm for college, the military, and careers in the city. Some of them return, like Brad and his sister, Amy.

Deep valleys, wooded hillsides, and roads that need snowplows in the winter have remained constant. Weather and seasons are watched close in rural areas. Don’t be surprised if talk in the beauty shop is as much about the amount of rain as the newest reality show. I’ve found that the residents of these small places enjoy travel, sports, and all the usual American things. But they also remember to stand still long enough to savor a sunrise or sunset.

I hope you enjoy reading about Laura and Brad. Life has given each of them challenges plus a dose of courage and determination large enough to overflow into the streets of Crystal Springs.