As a kid, I would always ask myself, “Why does grandma live in such a inconvenient location?” I can remember driving 7 hours in the family suburban, with my three sisters, as we all asked incessantly, “Are we there yet!?” As I grew older (and wiser?), I realized living in a small town is not about convenience – It’s about holding onto the days of knowing everyone by name in your town. Where church lasts all Sunday and usually involves multiple cups of watered down Folger’s coffee and packet creamer. Where people still go into banks to deposit checks, but mostly to talk with Betty, who’s been your teller since bee-hive haircuts and war bonds were all the rage. Where people took the time to slow down and not just talk at old people, but listen. Listen to the wisdom and life experiences of a more challenging time that helped define a nation.
This is my grandma and this is Lindsborg, Kansas. I’ve been visiting this town my entire life, and while it’s easy to rip on how small the town is, it’s also easy to slow down and appreciate how maintaining “small town USA” is crucial to remembering yesteryear. The City of Lindsborg was settled in the spring of 1869 by a group of Swedish immigrants from the Värmland province of Sweden led by Pastor Olof Olsson. They envisioned a community rich in culture, learning, religion, business and farming. Today, thirty percent of the population is of Swedish heritage. The downtown features gift shops that specialize in Swedish souvenirs, including various sizes of dala horses.
On this occasion, my entire family made the trek to Lindsborg to honor my grandma’s 80th birthday. I always say age is just a number and my grandma is living proof of this. She is agile, smart, and sharp as a tack. She loves her wine and I love sharing a glass of red with her. Only one glass. She’s a fiery Democrat that is a supporter of social progression, but also never misses a chance to comment on, “how they just don’t make things like they used to.” And shoes, goodness me, they apparently don’t make shoes that don’t hurt her 80 year old feet. It’s that kind of balance that is important as we enter an era that is focused on social progression and equality.
To celebrate my Grandma’s birthday, my aunt coordinated a dinner at the soon to be open Farley’s Bar and Grill. The entire dinner I kept thinking how ‘Dallas’ the experience was from starter to dessert. The interior was far from completed, which added to the overall experience. The owner had set a long fold-out table with a mix of plastic dinnerware and metal utensils on picnic table clothes. The room was lit with work-lamps that sent light spilling over the exposed brick walls and vintage bank vault door (the building is a former bank). We were served by the owner and I’ve never felt more exclusive in a town with a population of 3,489 people. Hearing her plans for the restaurant was right in line with the food scene in Dallas. A walk-up window for breakfast burritos in the morning, full lunch and dinner menu, and a walk-up window conversion serving customers ice cream treats in the afternoon/evening.
We had the choice of two chef specialties, crispy-fried chicken or smothered steak. The steak had a rich gravy filled with slowly sautéed mushroom and onions. The chicken was fried perfectly and could be the thickest, most tender, chicken breasts I’ve ever eaten. The chicken had a peppery, creamy, pan sauce that also spilled onto the mashed potatoes (skin-on which is a personal favorite). Both dishes were served with green beans that were the talk of the table. In what could be the most puzzlingly delicious side dish ever, there was smoke, spice, and a hint of sweetness. We later found out from the chef that the flavors came from bacon, white wine, pepper, and onions that had been reduced down for hours to make the most delicious, and authentically Kansas-style green beans.
The dessert was a preview of what’s to come from their walk-up ice cream window. I kept thinking how perfectly small town the thought of a walk-up ice cream window is. The ice cream was topped with the most delicious house made chocolate hot fudge sauce. I couldn’t have thought of a better way to end the meal than with a classic sundae. At the conclusion of the meal, the owner brought the chef out to greet his guests. I learned from my mother to ask strangers, “what’s your story?” as a way to start conversation. So, it was no surprise that my mother asked the chef for his story. A genuinely fascinating story that is centered around his passion for cooking with fresh ingredients. A story of perseverance as he is currently on the transplant list for a new kidney and is in stage four renal failure. Hearing his story could not have made the evening any more special. His story is as genuine as his food – food that could easily stand against any trendy Dallas restaurant. Farley’s Bar and Grill is a true gem in Lindsborg, Kansas.
Another Lindsborg gem is the Blacksmith Coffee Roastery. I was gifted a pound of this coffee from my aunt this past Christmas. Occupying one of the oldest structures in town – the Holmberg & Johnson Blacksmith Shop®, they are an artisan microroaster, specializing in exotic, ultra-rare, super-premium, single-origin Arabica bean coffees. Their unusual roaster sits in front of the original forge upon which wagon wheels, horseshoes and harnesses were crafted for the Swedish homesteaders who settled the Smoky River Valley, Cowboys, Pioneers and maybe even a few Gunslingers. If you step inside you can still see where horses were tied while they received their brand new shoes! Their roasting smoke travels up the same chimney used a century ago. The smoke just smells better now.
As we pulled out of town, appropriately down Main Street, I couldn’t help but stop and appreciate the empty street. I felt a sense of comfort knowing that on Sunday, in small town USA, most everyone was at church and/or enjoying the slower kind of Sunday morning. After all, that’s where you could find my grandma Betty, AKA small town USA.