Many of you probably think I’m completely stranded in the middle of nowhere, with nothing but a few hundred buffalo and a herd of horses keeping me company. This is not entirely true—the small town of McLaughlin is but a short five miles south of the Wilder.
If you Googled it, your search probably yielded a few desolate-looking images of small houses or fields, but McLaughlin is much, much more than that.
As the largest city on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation and 85 miles from the nearest Walmart, it is home to a Family Dollar, a Cenex gas station, the bank, post office, two liquor stores, the Prairie Dog Café, a school (home of the McLaughlin Midgets), and last but certainly not least, the NAPA Auto Parts store.
The Family Dollar is where we go to buy any basic groceries we may have forgotten at Walmart in Bismarck (to which we travel once a month). The gas station is another frequent visit of ours when we need a quick coffee break. It also contains a deli called the “Hot Spot”, which serves pizzas, subs, and an assortment of fried foods and, from what I can tell, seems to be a pretty popular place among the locals. I’ve been to the Prairie Dog Café once before, where I ordered a delicious veggie omelet served with garden fresh tomatoes and cucumbers. However, the most frequented place of all (at least for us here at the Wilder) is the NAPA.
NAPA is more than just an auto parts store—it also doubles as the feed store and mechanic shop— the community is unlike anything I’ve experienced before. Back home, I might run into someone I know at Wal-Mart with barely a smile, and the Herbert Automotive mechanics have never learned my name. I’ve only been able to say “I’ll have the usual” at one restaurant before in my life, and sometimes I wonder if my dentist remembers who I am. Here, however, those kinds of distant, unintentional interactions are few and far between.
A few weeks ago, NAPA hosted an informative community dinner where we gathered in the back of the store to share a meal reminiscent of southern country kitchen food—steak, corn, mashed potatoes and rolls. While we ate, a few representatives from SmartLik and Payback gave presentations on different types of mineral tubs and I learned (amongst many other things) that South Dakota grass is particularly low on phosphorous and if your cow patties “are stacking, they’re lacking”. Later that night I won a sorting stick in the dinner raffle and got to take home a free Payback hat.
While this night may not seem out of the ordinary for the people of McLaughlin, it was incredibly special for me. I experienced a community come together for something as simple as a shared meal in the back of an auto parts store.
There is a Sanskrit word, kula, which means “intentional community” or “community of the heart”. In a world where we are so defined by our differences rather than our commonalities, kula is more important than ever. I encourage you, in this month of Thanksgiving, to find your kula—be it your local NAPA or elsewhere—and embrace it with gratitude and kindness.
By Savannah Robar.