Minnesota is a nice place. It sits like a lodge hat atop Iowa and is filled with lakes, mosquitos, polite Family Dollar employees named Tim, wind turbines, domestic turkeys, beavers, Vikings fans, and pockets of people who speak Finnish.
It’s also home to the greatest birthday present in history. Or, at least in my household.
I’ve never read the “Little House on the Prairie” books, but that’s OK, because my wife has more than made up for it. I wanted to be an astronaut when I was a kid; my wife wanted to be Laura Ingalls Wilder.
During the Offutt Family Vacation Extravaganza (2016 edition), we went to South Dakota, a lovely place with lots of wide open spaces and few people. On our way home, we stopped in the town of DeSmet, also lovely with lots of wide open space and few people. It had been one of the many hometowns of Laura Ingalls Wilder, hence our stop. My wife was thrilled. The kids, not so much. This trip to DeSmet was my wife’s second. She’s also visited Laura’s home in southern Missouri, so yeah, she’s a fan.
Walnut Grove, Minnesota, the town featured in the “Little House on the Prairie” TV show and one of the books, has a museum, a Little House play, and showcases a spot on Plum Creek where the Ingalls family apparently lived in a hole. (My wife says it was a dugout. I’m not sure I see the difference.) It was the one Little House tourist spot my wife hadn’t visited.
And it was only five-and-a-half-hours from our house.
Minnesota, here we come.
Much like the first hundred miles or so of Colorado looking disappointingly like Kansas, the first hundred miles or so of Minnesota look disappointingly like Iowa. Endless seas of corn dotted with oddly-named small towns like Luverne and Okabena.
Our first stop wasn’t actually Walnut Grove. It was too small for a motel. So we stopped in neighboring Tracy at a motel built when one of the Roosevelts was in office. Quite possibly Teddy. It had walls, a bed, television, the unfulfilled promise of Wi-Fi and a bathroom all in an area the size of our kitchen. When I unlocked the door with an actual key, I believe the word “quaint” came to mind.
We ditched our stuff and went for a drive around town.
Exploring small-town Minnesota is –
I swerved into a parking lot.
“What’s wrong?” my wife asked.
“There’s a bug on your arm.”
I pointed at a tiny brown bug. My wife wasn’t usually crawling with insects. “It looks like a bedbug.”
We spent 10 minutes driving around Tracy (population 2,163) looking for a Wi-Fi signal before pulling into a Subway restaurant and spending 20 more minutes trying to determine if: 1) the insect was actually a bedbug, 2) if it was, would we have to throw all our luggage back into the car and set it on fire, 3) should we buy something from Subway while we’re here.
Google said it wasn’t a bedbug. Good. And my meatball parm was delicious.
Welcome to Minnesota, Offutts.
Next week: The Laura Ingalls Wilder look-alike contest.
Jason Offutt’s newest novel, “Bad Day for a Road Trip,” is available at jasonoffutt.com.