This is the section where the narrator of the story is supposed to neatly sum up the tale and present his readers with a nice, tidy conclusion that succinctly proves a distinct academic point. Fortunately, real life doesn't present itself in neat, tidy packages. And the history of Brainerd and the memories of its inhabitants are evidence of the blurred lines that shade any academic attempt to place a community's history in a national or even regional context.
The more I learned about Brainerd, the more I realized that it did not fit the pattern I expected to find -- a pattern played out again and again in the history of the Prairie Plains. It boomed, lost its primacy as a railroad center and then seriously faltered. But it did not disappear. It somehow hung on, and supported several smaller businesses with only a handful of residents, for nearly 110 years after its most prosperous firms and residents trundled on down the road to Whitewater.
Some of those whose families chose to stay or continue to locate in Brainerd communicated strong personal memories of their own family homes, several community structures (a school, a church and a railroad depot) and two key businesses -- a long-closed general store and the recently dismantled grain elevator.
Why, then, do people choose to live in a place like Brainerd? Is it the memories, the history, the family ties? I posed this question to Agnes Harder via e-mail as I was struggling with this chapter, and she offered some insightful comments that sum up the hold Brainerd has on its inhabitants' perception of this place.
"For economic reasons, it is much cheaper to buy a few lots in Brainerd than to buy 40 acres in the country -- which is required to put up a house in the county," she wrote, in summing up the practicalities of choosing to reside in Brainerd. "Also, the price of houses is much cheaper and they are taxed as any country home and have no city tax. It is a good location, near the high school, on good roads and fairly close to small towns."
"But the main reason that we think Brainerd survived is the strong family ties and values," Agnes concluded. "Some live there because they want to live where they grew up. Others live in the house that was Grandpa and Grandma's. And they continued to live there for many generations."
Although most of the town's landmarks have long since been abandoned or demolished, they exist as powerfully in the memories of these Brainerdites as if they had just visited them yesterday, despite the fact that few photographic records exist of these structures aside from those included in this study. The memories of a Brainerd gone by have become so strongly embedded in these residents' present-day conceptions of the community that the current townscape exists in a sort of time/space limbo -- the past is always present.
Like a community quilt, the memories of the Brainerdites I encountered patch the fragmented townscape together, keeping it alive in the face of both the elements and the forces of economic and demographic change. A Prairie Plains townscape may, indeed, be more durable than even the landscape from which it was forged.