Portrait of a Town

my grandparent's farm

Today, I won't be sharing a recipe with you (but I will soon, I promise!). Instead, I'm going to try something a little different. I want to tell you a story.

This past weekend I spent my time celebrating a milestone for a small Midwestern town. Far from a kitchen and baking supplies, I took out my camera and snapped photographs of something other than cake and cookies for a change. I set out to document, in my own way, a place that is deeply rooted in my own family history. I want to share with you the portrait of a town—Tuttle, North Dakota.

Farmer's elevator

Tuttle is a small town. The population now hovers around 80, but it hasn't always been that way. Like most small farming towns, they had a lively heyday. I've heard many stories and anecdotes over the years. Pictures of the blossoming Main Street in the history books have been handed around, featuring shops and businesses as far as the eye can see. The post office and school were clearly lauded. These simple establishments were signs of success; they put this town on the map.

Like most small towns, Tuttle has its own character. It's rare to see someone walking up and down Main Street without sporting a farmer's tan and a rugged John Deere hat. Talk on the street revolves around tractors and the crop this year. It's the sort of place where everyone knows everyone and everything about everyone. Secrets cannot be kept and few mind their own business. Unlike large cities, your neighbors become your friends. In a small town, you have to find a way to get along with everyone, like it or not. As a result, the community is tight knit and strong. It is a town built by the people, for the people. There is an immense pride for this small, little dot on a map—the evidence is in the tone of voice and the calluses on the hands of the people who call this home.

pollenationtin man

My parents once called this town home. They both grew up on nearby farms. Like most farm kids, their lives revolved around the seasons—planting, harvesting, winter. They attended the same church, and then school. They grew up together. They dated. They fell in love. And, like most of the people their age, they moved away. My grandparents and relatives still remain there today.

creative planterbuzzzzzz

This weekend Tuttle celebrated its centennial. As one of the Pastors was quick to point out, Tuttle has survived two world wars, the Cuban missile crisis, and Vietnam. The assassination of two great men—JFK and Martin Luther King Jr. Putting man into space and then on the moon. Yet, Tuttle has only been around as long as one of its oldest residents. A hundred years can seem so long and so short at the same time.

A few hundred people gathered for the event. For a few short days, Main Street was alive with the chatter of people; it was almost as those stories I had heard of the alive and flourishing town were true once again. Old friends and neighbors, many from far away places, had years to catch up on. Memories and childhood stories were shared and remembered. Whether funny, sad, or indifferent, these were the tales that defined the lives of so many people—defined, in a sense, Tuttle itself.

antique tractorsGranny's Got Bait!port-a-potty truck in a parade

The centennial was a three day celebration. The festivities on Saturday started with a parade. It was a parade unlike any I had ever been too. The parades I've experienced have had floats and streamers, bright colors and loud music. Tuttle is a simple town and the parade only mirrored this simplicity. Anyone and everyone was invited to participate. Antique tractors put-put-putted down the street. Residents waved from the windows of their pickup trucks as they drove along the route. A grandmother pulled her young grandson in a little red wagon, as he tossed out candy to the children. Even the man who brought in the port-a-potties for the event went along for the ride, tossing rolls of toilet paper out to the crowd.

I told you this town had character.


Among the events, there was a classic car show to feature the rusted and well restored wonders hidden away in barns and garages. My dad entered his pride and joy, a baby blue '77 Camaro. Even though he resisted the idea until the very last minute, you could tell he loved reliving the memories and telling the stories of the roads that car has traveled as people asked him questions about the different features.

turtleturtle races!

There was a turtle race to entertain the kids. Over a hundred turtles entered the race, bets were placed, and the turtles were released. I cheered on my baby cousins. Though neither of them placed, I did get run over by turtle number 49. He was a quick one, with sharp little teeth.

egg toss

And what event would be complete without an egg toss?

Tuttle schoolmerry-go-round

Tuttle School stands at the very end of Main Street. It's the first building you see once you pull into town. The school holds great meaning for many of the people who gathered. This was the school where they grew up. The class sizes were small (most graduated in a class of less than twenty), but the school was big enough to have sports, band, and a squad of cheerleaders. My mother likes to pretend the pictures of her posing in her uniform with pompoms don't exist, but, when asked about her school days, she still remembers her cheers. The school left a mark on everyone in the town, in some way or another.

Four years ago it was shut down due to the lack of students. It now stands as a poignant reminder of the town Tuttle used to be.

balloon remembrance ceremonyrelease of the balloons

The centennial celebration ended with a remembrance ceremony, which I found only fitting. Before everyone left for their respective homes, cities, and states, Tuttle wanted to remember the people that made this town into a home. Into a simple, but honorable place to live. Balloons were released into the sky. Each color represented a different piece of the puzzle—the farmers, teachers, veterans, business owners, homemakers. The list goes on.

There was a hush over the crowd as we watched the balloons soar out of sight. It was a sad, beautiful moment. Mothers and fathers were remembered. Memories from a different time, a different place. Even I became nostalgic for this town I'd never known. For this place that was so close to my family, yet so far from the life I knew.

Days Gone By cafe

As everyone packed up to leave the town they used to call home, a bittersweet feeling hung heavy in the air. I could see people wondering when they would come back. If they would come back. A few jokes were made to ease the tension ("See you at the next centennial!"), but they did little to alter the mood. No one could help but face the truth.

Tuttle is a town that is fading. Aging. Slowly, yes, but you can feel it in the air. You can see it among the abandoned buildings. You can glimpse it through the large gaps between the stores that stood on the once lively Main Street. You can feel it in the nostalgic eyes of the elderly, as they tell the stories of a time now past.

To me, an outsider, Tuttle seemed to be following a life cycle of its own. Birth, life, and the final rest. It's a cycle this town knows well. The farmers have seen it in their crops, year after year. The ranchers know it better; a lesson taught often by their pigs and cows. As the population of the town ages, they understand this is a reality even they must face.

I don't want to believe Tuttle will ever truly fade. The farmsteads that built this town still stand tall. They have been passed down through generations, father to son. Tradition runs deep in the blood of this town. The mark this town left on the lives of its residents is permanent.

Tuttle is a sentimental town. The memories it holds bring truths of happiness, hardship, and tragedy. They hold the reality from a time now past.

Of days gone by.


Kristin Rosenau

Photographer, writer, and baker of all things sweet.

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