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Nicole J. Phillips: Spirit at street fair shows why we stay close to home

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FARGO -- I grew up in a little town in Wisconsin that I remember being filled with kind people and a sense of security.

But for some reason, the kids in my town, including me, couldn't wait to get out. We would dream of the day we could move to Chicago or Minneapolis or somewhere just far enough away to be able to shake off the small-town dust and begin life on our own.

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I thought that was the norm, but maybe not.

I'm meeting more people in Fargo who actually grew up here. They went to the same schools their children now attend. They still go to the same church and shop at the same grocery store.

Why? I think this email I got from Jen Sahr does a great job of summing it up.

"Why do we live here? That's a question my husband and I have asked one another from time to time, especially during the months of February and March. Like many other born-and-raised North Dakota couples, we stay in the state for family. This is how we were raised and how we wish to raise our children.

"As many local families do, we cleared our schedule to attend the Downtown Street Fair on July 20. We shopped, chatted and dreamed, imagining how this painting or that photograph would look in our home, catching up with family and friends we hadn't expected to see and listening to Ecuadorian flute-accompanied music.

"Late into the afternoon, we came across the tent of solar-powered garden lighting out of Shell Rock, Iowa. We quickly loaded our hands with four staked metal flowers. As we approached the booth owner with our wants and credit card in hand, we were informed he accepted only cash or check. DRAT! That left us out.

"Before we turned the full 180 degrees to return the goods, the owner asked one of the boys, who appeared to be his son, to give him some business cards, on which he wrote the total amount we owed on one and our name and phone number on the second. Three times I asked if he was comfortable with the arrangement, fully expecting him to realize he didn't know us or the backgrounds from which we were raised.

"In the end, we walked away from the booth with our treasures and a business card 'I Owe You,' marveling at the honesty, trust, and belief in the values of the Midwest.

"A trip to the street fair wouldn't be complete without a snack to round out the day. As we approached the Dippin' Dots cart, I recalled my earlier learned lesson and immediately asked, 'Do you take Visa?'

"The gentle soul replied he didn't have a means to swipe a credit card. 'Shoot!' I said while beginning the journey to the bottom of my purse. 'We might be out of luck.'

"As I worked to scrounge together $4, he asked if I was from the area. After confirming our Fargo residency, he responded, 'I'm in many places in Fargo. We wouldn't want this young girl to go without a treat,' referring to my daughter. 'We'll give her what she desires and you'll find me somewhere sometime and repay what's owed.'

"Seriously? Twice in an hour someone takes us at our word? I did manage to find a crumpled five dollar bill to pay for the Rainbow Ice, but I was still filled with pride for the second time in less than 20 minutes to be part of a family that extends beyond genealogy.

"These moments are indeed why we choose to live here. Filmmakers can poke fun at our accents and assume everyone has a wood chipper in the backyard, but this level of trust, human spirit and humanity only comes from one part of the world.

"These are the people that make 'North Dakota Nice.' These are the people who have been raised with principles where 'paying it forward' isn't an event, it's a way of life. These simple acts of faith are why we are proud to say we live here. This is home. This is family. This is kindness."

Please continue to share your stories of kindness with me at nphillips15@hotmail.com. Or send a letter to Kindness is Contagious c/o Nicole J. Phillips, The Forum, 101 5th St. N., Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107.

Nicole J. Phillips is a former television anchor for Fox News in Fargo. She is an author, speaker and mother of three kids. Nicole is married to North Dakota State University men's head basketball coach Saul Phillips.

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