He lived just down the gravel road a bit, a mile or two. If you pulled out of our little farm driveway and took a left, you'd motor on past Howard and Lorraine's, Nelson and Grace's, Morris and Dorothy's.

There's where he lived, right up there on the right. That was John and Esther's place there, behind that little grove of trees. Yep, that's where John and Esther and the boys lived back in the day.

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They were more than just farmers, they were more than just neighbors. They were friends and in a very real sense, family. We visited warmly and often. John and Esther's boys were boys I grew up with, laughed with, got into a little, uh...mischief with, shared secrets with, and maybe even cried with a time or two.

For the 17+ years, I lived there, they did too, just down that dusty gravel road. Me and the boys went to the little two-room school in town, then off to that bigger school in that bigger town. We all went to that little church together, every Sunday. We sat right over here, and they sat right over there. It was the same week after week after week.

Growing Up Leota: Mayberry By Another Name

There's a comfort in the sameness of a small town. Call it a rut if you want. I call it family.

And then the years intrude, the clock and calendar come knocking at the door and sweep us into another age, another decade or five and before you know it, the wrinkles that belonged to my Dad and to John and the others now live on my hands, my face.

And we look around, and they're gone. Dad, Mom, Howard, Lorraine, Nelson, Grace, Morris, Dorothy. All those neighbors....no, friends and family...are gone.

And now, I say goodbye to John. I saw that John passed away, not a young man, but a man that was an important part of my life, my (as they say) formative years. I didn't realize it at the time, but John was a friend of mine, even though he was 'older' and I was just a small town farm kid that played with his kids. I lost a friend, a friend who lived a great life and was loved, not only by his personal family but by the family that was all of us around Leota and beyond.

So, perhaps selfishly, I think back about John and smile, laugh, and remember. I was lucky to have John in my life, and I hope you have a 'John' in your life too.

If you do, you're blessed.

Randy's Minnesota Memories

Randy McDaniel grew up on a small farm near Leota, Minnesota during the classic baby-boomer years of the 1960s and 1970s. These are his stories of growing up in the idyllic world of southwest Minnesota.

Here Are The 7 Remaining Drive-In Theaters In South Dakota

If you were born last century...you know, in the nineteen hundreds (ugh)...you may have spent a summer evening in the car watching movies. I don't mean on your phone, I mean at the drive-in movie theater!

If you were in Sioux Falls in the 1970s and '80's you may remember seeing Jaws and Indiana Jones at The East Park or the Starlite Drive-In. Both drive-ins opened just after World War 2. The East Park didn't make it out of the '70s, closing in 1978. The Starlite survived long enough to see the birth of home video, closing in 1985.


Drive-in movies had a bit of a resurgence during the pandemic. They were a way to go out and do something social without getting out of your car.

If you tried one during that time, or you remember the fun of a warm summer evening watching movies on that giant screen there are still places in South Dakota and around Sioux Falls you can do it.

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