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Big-city Geek Turned Town Freak
Stirring things up in the land of "Fargo"

By HEIDI HOLTAN
Blast Minnesota Bureau

For 10 years, I was a perfectly happy, single woman living the good life of friends and fulfilling work in the big city of St. Paul. But then I moved back to my tiny hometown of Brainerd, Minn. to suck up the benefits of working -- and, of course, contribute greatly (don't worry, mom and dad) -- to the family phone book business.

I now get to see my family more often, I live on a lake and I have more flexibility and input in my job. Nothing could be finer you say? Yah, it's fine all right. Some parts are great even. But I'm still in a period of adjustment. If you saw the Coen brothers movie, "Fargo," you probably see my point. For cripes sakes, I know the film's characters of Margie and Norm are fictional, but there's a lot of people here just like that. For the record, the real Brainerd police chief feels the town is much more upscale than the movie portrayed. My personal take? Brainerd is quite similar to the Coens' vision.

It's not so much the lack of interesting films and decent bookstores that make it hard to adjust, it's more intangible than that. In Brainerd, it's more normal to have a restraining order against your spouse or be on your third husband than to be never married at age 29. In my old life, lots of my friends were single. It was a valid lifestyle. But here, they look at me like I'm a freak.

I didn't figure out what was eating me until I was bike riding on the Paul Bunyan Trail one day -- and came across two little girls who said hello. I said hi back but kept pedaling. Then one yelled, "I'm Shawnee!"

I turned my head back and said, "Hi Shawnee. I'm Heidi." I could tell by the needy tone in their voices that they were trying to get me to stop and talk to them. But I had no intention of caving into their 8-year-old demands until I heard their next inquiry.

"Are you a mom or a kid?"

A simple question, yes, but it knocked me on my ass for a moment. As I rode back to them, I repeated in my head, "mom or kid, mom or kid, mom or kid." I was puzzled by which to choose. Quite obviously, I'm neither -- and kid-like is about as close as I get. But it made me realize the issue needed some clarification. I suddenly saw a vision of myself as a missionary, educating the young people about "alternative" lifestyles in Brainerd.

In a serious, deliberate tone I answered, "I'm not a mom and I'm not a kid."

But my delivery didn't help. They didn't get it.

"So, why are you riding a kid's bike?" Shawnee asked.

I tried explaining with the inadequate phrases of "I'm short, so it's a small bike" and "I know I look young, but I'm 29," and "Not everybody has to get married when they're 18, you know."

I decided I'd confused poor Shawnee enough, so I rode away.

But she yelled after me, "Are you leaving to go meet guys?"

As I pedaled away, I realized that this little moment in my life was the key to the weird feelings I've been having since returning to Brainerd. There are two choices here: Be a mom or a kid. And I feel odd because I'm neither.

"Are you a mom or a kid" is the unspoken question the collective town of Brainerd seems to be constantly asking me. But the adults don't have the nerve to just ask, the way Shawnee did.

Since moving back five months ago, I've been dragged to comedy night at the casino where the man next to me laughed so hard at the "Minnesota has two seasons: winter and winter" joke that he knocked over his walker. I've been yelled at by the town librarian while applying for my library card. I've co-written a letter to the editor protesting a City Council member's racist comments. And I've attended the governor's debate with my skirt accidentally hiked up. Luckily, the tone to the debate was a little less formal, being that there's a former pro wrestler in the race.

Though autumn is beautiful up here, it makes me wistful for my old life. In St. Paul, I didn't run into Stevie Knott, the boy who used to pinch my butt on the bus. But don't worry, things are definitely looking up. After a long dry spell, I had a date this week.