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Seclusion, not isolation

They call themselves ''small-town people,'' the Brothertons, although they've moved from town to city suburb and back again in the process of raising a family. Their youngest child, Joel, came along after almost everyone else had grown up, and they decided to raise him here in the ''Yellow Banks'' region of the Mississippi.

Joel sits quietly to one side, never interrupting, as his father, Dale, a thin, intense man, tells what it was that brought them back to the country.

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''I don't know if it was nostalgia or what that (attracted) me, but I wanted acreage in the country,'' Dale Brotherton explains. And he says he's willing to ''commute 100 miles round trip every day'' to nearby Moline, where he works for Deere & Co. as a computer systems specialist, to get this acreage.

The 141/2 acres of alfalfa and corn that engulf three sides of their yard make of it a remote peninsula on this road. There are cars on the road, but mostly people just keep on going, leaving the family secluded.

Secluded, but not isolated. Local residents ''may be a bit standoffish,'' Mr. Brotherton says, ''and we don't meddle in other people's business. But people around here are quick to help. If I have car troubles, I know the first car that comes along will stop.'' His wife, Diane, adds: ''It's always been the same wherever we've lived, because we've always had a Christian unity.''

Still, to Mr. Brotherton, who takes you outside to admire his fields and his relic of a barn - ''a hundred years old and in a disreputable state of disrepair'' - it's the seclusion that makes this place into a Shangri-La of sorts, albeit one that he has to work hard for every day.

To his son Joel it is a sufficient universe, from which he travels only to go to school. His occasional asides and answers to direct questions reveal a life of intense privacy, one in which the main activities of the day are to ''bike ride and play Atari and pester my dogs.''

Any friends? ''Not really.''

Sometimes he goes out to the road to sell his dad's sweet corn. Folks who buy it say hello, maybe ask after his parents. ''A couple times a summer, I go and swim in the bay,'' he adds, referring to nearby Sturgeon Bay. ''I see enough fellows up at school, and then they get on my nerves.''

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Dale Brotherton looks around at his alfalfa, his sweet corn, and his outsize barn and says, ''It's like I say, I grew up in a rural village. And I guess it was nostalgia that got me back into the country. But I'm having fun. So why worry about what got me here?''

His son puts it more simply: ''I like it 'cause it's not so noisy. Not so many people.''

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