It’s never any fun getting a speeding ticket, but that’s exactly what happened last summer when I was on my way from Blue Earth to Mankato, Minnesota. A Faribault County sheriff clocked me in my Nissan Xterra driving 15 mph over the speed limit on U.S. 169.
As it turned out, the ticket was actually a blessing in disguise; it caused me to drive under the speed limit for the remainder of my 27-mile journey along the two-lane highway.
For those of you who’ve never experienced Minnesota and all of her splendor, all I can say is you’re missing out. I used to think no other state compared to the natural beauty of my native Kentucky until my first visit to the Land of 10,000 Lakes three years ago.
Since 2011 I have visited Minnesota countless times, but this was my first time traveling this route. It introduced to me to uniquely named towns — Good Thunder, Rapidan, Garden Center, Truman and Vernon Center — and allowed me to see what rural life was really like with its painted barns, larger than life farm equipment and waves of cornfields for miles upon miles. The biggest surprise, however, was the discovery of three cemeteries — Hillside, Vernon Center and St. Paul Lutheran — but it was Hillside that left me with haunting memories.
Have you ever been overcome with emotion over a person or object and knew that they were destined to become part of your life? That’s only happened three times in my life — with a painting, a person, and a cemetery. And that cemetery is Hillside.
I’m not sure what it was about the cemetery — I’ve visited some spectacular cemeteries in my life — but it’s as if it was calling out to me. Could it have been trapped spirits or was something trying to tell me this is where I belonged — or better yet where I’m supposed to be buried.
According to the Where Am I At app on my smartphone, my location was 43°47’21.1200″, -94°10’4.2450″ which put my location as Winnebago. Ironically, I know two people who live there and I always pictured the community to be similar to the town featured in the 1998 movie “Pleasantville” — very laid back and stress free with friendly, neighborly residents. In fact, one of my Winnebago friends once said, “It’s like Mayberry here…” That image has always been stuck in my head!
At first glance, there’s nothing overly special about this cemetery: it sits on a hill and is surrounded by a beautiful landscape of cornfields, tree lined hills and cow pastures. But it was inviting and there was definitely something calling out to me — I could feel it all around me as I walked up and down the rows of tombstones, noticing names like Robbins, Spickerman, Ayers, Bayes, Thatcher and Scholl; Europe-sounding names.
The first time I visited Minnesota on a business trip I was hooked. And every time I go back, it feels more and more like home. What makes it so special? First and foremost is the friendliness of the people. They make you feel welcome, and actually enjoy striking up a conversation. And they love talking about the weather! I like all of the small towns as well as Minneapolis and St. Paul and all the outdoor activities the state offers. When I tell my friends and family I’d like to relocate to Minnesota, they tell me I’m crazy citing the harsh winters as the No. 1 reason. Telling that to someone who actually prefers winter over summer, well, they’re going to have to do better than that.
Perhaps it’s my growing appreciation for Minnesota; perhaps my imaginings about Winnebago after hearing my friend’s description; or maybe there is something otherworldly going on at this little cemetery at the side of U.S. 169.
Have you ever had a similar experience when you’ve visited somewhere you’ve never been before? Tell me about it. I’d really like to know I’m not alone.
Until next time…