Took our annual July 4th trip down memory lane, back to the small town where our family finally put down some roots. DDH, the Wise, always wanted roots. IFO, the Slow to Learn, desired constant change of venue.
We moved into the hills above a richly diverse small town. We learned that small towns depend on the surrounding land for survival. Land has resources: soil and the ability to grow trees, livestock, and crops. Water does the same: rivers, creeks, ponds, lakes and the ocean are full of life – crawdads, trout, salmon, crabs, tuna and more.
Towns provide people, the greatest and best resource of all, who contribute ideas, innovation and physical effort; manufactured goods like lumber and bricks; commercial activities like banks, insurance and retail stores; and entertainment like music, art, drama.
IFO’s little town has all that and more – Mud Drags! Car shows! Rock concerts! Fiddle contests! Art tours! Downtown renovations! Downtown decorations – flags, flowers, parks, metal sculptures!
Even though she hasn’t lived there for decades, she always returns for the traditional Fourth of July Celebration – the pancake breakfast, the street fairs selling food and art [see photos here of skirt she bought there!], the timber carnival, the parade featuring log trucks, kids, old cars, fire trucks and more.
Chairs line the parade route first thing in the morning and are unmolested all day. In a small town, anyone might see you and stop you if you appeared to have designs on those chairs. That eyes-on the street quality is why most people still don’t lock their doors either.
Strolling down Main Street, where all the businesses are, she sees a sign posted in a window, “Bull for Rent.” The sign lists the sterling breeding of said bull and lists phone numbers to call.
The name on the sign is that of an old, prominent family of loggers, fishermen and farmers. Yes, all three in the same family, both the men and women. This is common in this neck of the woods. When one industry is down, the other two fill in the cracks.
Women also wait tables, teach or do office or cafeteria work in the schools, drive school bus. Men also work in the mills and schools. Nearly everybody volunteers for something. The number of clubs and civic organizations is amazingly long for a town of 1500 people.
Some people might think these were unsophisticated, uneducated, perhaps even biased or bigoted people. They would be completely wrong. Most residents of this little town give new meaning to the term laissez faire. They are responsible for themselves and leave others alone. They help their neighbors voluntarily and do their best, as individuals, to build community.
They have lived, worked or traveled abroad, or at least to Alaska, where timber jobs are available when work is scarce to the south. In addition to Military travel, the religious people travel to Israel, farmers tour other farms in New Zealand, Turkey, or Tennessee, for example.
Notice this is travel for a reason – to learn or to work. Rare are visits to Europe, except to see kin, unlike the urban population that goes for sightseeing and other passive entertainment.
IFO’s annual visits bring news of changes in this town. The huge US Plywood mill that went up in the 1950s and provided dozens of jobs to millworkers is not just gone, it is obliterated. There is no sign of its former glory. Even the parking lot is gone.
Soon (in five to ten years) there will be either another factory or a farm on that land. It’s not suitable for housing. This obliteration has happened to other plants that used to give employment. The brick plant, for example. Those people who fear that “farmland is being lost,” need to visit here. Bare land is coming back. When IFO points this out, people are dumbfounded and disbelieving.
Other changes are more personal. We learn of illnesses, miraculous recoveries, and deaths of the past year. We see formerly empty storefronts again sporting signs of a new café or antique store, and former businesses now gone and building empty. The bank has gone.
But the Old High School, that superintendents tried for decades to get rid of, still stands! Now it’s a campus – available for a variety of community uses. Perhaps job training, or advanced education, or both. A sign of economic hope and determination.
What do we learn from this?
Civilization is constantly changing – growing and shrinking. Waxing and waning.
Roots are good, but change can awaken.
Hope you had a happy Fourth of July. We sure did!
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Note on photos: skirt is “Handmade from recycled saris of cotton, silk and rayon. Made in India.” Sold in West Yamhill county, Oregon.