Larry Banman: Sense of community is found in crisis
November 5, 2009
Very few things can surpass the value of living in a community, in my opinion.
If you read my column last week or if you know me even casually, you are aware of the fact that my father died in the middle of October. From the bottom of my heart, I would like to thank everybody for their kind words and deeds that have left me with an overflowing heart.
It is often said that difficult times reveal the true character of people. Over the past few weeks, it has been my profound joy to see the very best in people revealed. I have experienced the selfless giving of care and compassion from many I’ve have known quite well and from some with whom I have had only casual contact. I thank all of you for sharing that part of yourselves with me and with my family.
During the first few days after my father passed away, I was in my hometown in the middle of rural Kansas. It is small community that is primarily Mennonite. I was born and raised in a Mennonite culture, though my home town is not one of the more conservative communities, like those associated with the Amish or Hutterites. I haven’t lived in that community since I was 20, and my visits since have never been more than a few days. I had forgotten what I was missing.
The food is as good as advertised. That stereotype is true. The idioms and idiosyncrasies of a conservative, Eastern European culture also generally play out to form. If you were to cross “Fiddler on the Roof” with Garrison Keillor’s “The News From Lake Wobegon,” you would have the perfect picture of my hometown, Goessel, Kan.
What I hadn’t realized is that the self-effacing, low-key, sly and dry humor that I have come to appreciate, germinates in those hills near Hillsboro, the closest metropolis to Goessel. At the faspa (a mid-afternoon light meal that encourages socialization) following my dad’s funeral, the proper amount of respect was paid. There was also enough laughter to fill the laugh track for a season’s worth of sitcoms.
If you will indulge me for this one small statement, I would be appreciative. As frightening as the thought is, imagine a room full of 175 Larry Banmans and you get the general idea of the definition of a faspa. For some of you, that thought is perhaps a greater yoke than you should be expected to shoulder. Consider this a fair warning. Should a faspa break out, you now know enough to duck or run for cover.
I had also forgotten about the surpassing intellect of the people in my hometown. Hollywood portrays farmers as barely more intelligent than oxen. It also portrays Mennonites as dim-witted or simplistic, at best. (Come to think of it, almost all religious people are treated in movies and television as virtual idiots.) We didn’t have the equivalent of CSAP back in the day at my school but I will use my own class as an example of the intellect of Goesselings. My SAT score was the equivalent of a 30 and I was ranked 12th in my class of 34. From that group, we have made the following contributions to society: three doctors, two missionaries, one state budget director (who is also a former state legislator), the CEO of a large management consulting firm, the senior vice president of a bank that specializes in agriculture loans, several small business owners, at least three farmers, a couple of teachers, two or three administrative directors and a regional sales manager for an automobile company. And those are just the ones with whom I used to play Monopoly.
More than 80 percent of us were farm kids and we weren’t an unusual class. Trust me when I say that when you go to Goessel, you don’t have to “dumb-down” your vocabulary or talk slower and louder so Goesselings can keep up with your train of thought.
I digress a bit and, for that, I apologize. My point is that I grew up amongst people capable of tremendous compassion. They are also capable of bringing each other to a level of accountability, primarily by the example they set with their own lives. I observed those qualities when I first moved to Kremmling on New Year’s Day in 1989. It is what I experienced anew these past few weeks, and for that I am grateful.
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