Sep 25, 2007

Small Town Life

I've been thinking for quite some time to write about life in our little town and a recent post on BabsRN's site has given me the impetus I've needed.

I've been very blessed to have lived in the areas in which I've lived. My first 25 years were spent in San Jose, California. I saw the area go through major changes during that time. We moved there in 1957, when the population was around 200,000, when San Jose was still a major agricultural area with lots of fields, cool old houses and creeks. We used to take tin cans down to the creek near us and catch frogs and tadpoles. We'd ride our bikes through the fields and pick wild mustard bouquets for our mom. There were definite boundaries of green space between the various towns back then, not all jumbled together and unidentifiable as to where you are when you drive around there now. I watched the mustard fields and the orchards get swallowed up by houses and businesses and I saw the blue sky and beautiful views of all the mountains surrounding the valley vanish away to brown skies and blocked views. That's not to say it always has brown skies . . . just seems like that's more the rule than the exception now. I remember looking up at the sky and not being able to count the stars because there were too many where now you look up at the sky and you can count the stars because you can see so few. This was a place where we'd play outside until late at night (in the summer), playing kick the can and hide and go seek in our neighborhoods. A place where you had to behave because the neighbors would call your folks and tell them if you'd done something you shouldn't have.

But then it began to grow. It grew and grew and, I suppose, is still growing. Few people can afford to buy homes there any more unless they have a ton of money. It's unfortunate. I like going back for an occasional visit as my sister still lives there, but I'm glad I don't live there any more. I'm very thankful for being raised there and thankful for where I am now.

Maybe it's because of my growing up experiences in San Jose that make me like our little town all the more. I never, ever for a moment thought I would live in a small town with a population of right around 5,000. I'm glad I'm here, though. It's a beautiful little town. We have the coastal mountains to our west and other mountains (big ones!) to our east, with our little valley in the middle. We're surrounded by redwood, pine and oak trees and have several good-sized creeks that run through town. We have deer constantly in our yards and gardens (check out some of my earlier posts), mountain lions, coyotes, foxes, and all sorts of other critters.

Being a rural town with plenty of wildlife around, sometimes some of that wildlife introduces itself to you. We had a grey tree squirrel fall out of one of our trees from probably 30+ feet up a few weeks ago. I heard some screaming sort of sound and thought it was one of the chickens so went out to check. There was this little baby squirrel squirming around on the ground just making the worst-sounding racket. I picked it up, brought it inside and ended up taking care of it for the next three weeks. I just gave it to one of the local wildlife rehab people yesterday. It was pretty cool feeding it and taking care of it for a while, but then it started to become pretty attached to me and I was afraid it would forget it was a squirrel meant for the outside squirrel world so I gave it to the rehabber sooner than I had planned. Emma was the only other one Pongo (she named him) would allow to touch him as she kept climbing up on my lap when I would feed him. He got used to her and she got used to him.

One of our other wildlife encounters was a little scarier . . . or maybe it should be "potentially scarier." We had a pool in the background several years ago during the summertime that was about 3 feet deep and maybe 12 feet across. I went outside one morning and found mountain lion tracks in the wet dirt around it and found it partially deflated where it looked as if something large had leaned on it and maybe had a drink from it. We took the pool down that day. Don't really want to invite the mountain lions to make this their nighttime haunt. We don't go out to the woods to walk around at dusk or dawn as we're not all that crazy about turning ourselves into mountain lion chow. We also had a cat disappear around the same time.

The kids in town who are the children of old-time farmers and ranchers, folks who've been here for forty plus years, still are brought up to say sir and ma'am and to respect their elders. Conversely, the kids in town whose parents moved here to grow weed or to become radical environmentalists are definitely NOT brought up that way. I'm not talking normal environmentalists who believe in good stewardship of the land and responsible use, putting back what your take from the land. These are the folks who believe that spiking trees, among other things, is reasonable. Fortunately, those tactics don't seem to happen much any more but the mentality is still there. Anyway, I'm getting off track. To be fair, though, it's not all that black and white. Kids are kids. Some are rude, some have manners.

This being a small town, you have to watch your behavior because someone you know is always around. This goes for both adults and the kids. If you're going to cheat on your wife, it would be foolish and stupid to parade around town with your girlfriend. Secrets don't stay secret for long in a small town. If you're a kid and you cut school and race around in your car, you have to expect that your folks are going to find out.

If you live in town and you're out for a walk, people smile and wave at you. Going to Safeway often ends up being a major social event as you will ALWAYS see someone you know. When we first moved here and I would go to the grocery store, it was always an experience of frustration. I was so used to the checker just checking the groceries and doing it as quickly as possible. There was no chatter. There were no 'hellos' or 'how are you's' or 'what are the kids doing'? It's just the opposite here. We know almost all of the employees by first name and they know us. Our kids go to school with their kids (or, in some cases, with them) and we all share news of what's happening in each others' lives. We ask because we care and we listen because we care.

If something catastrophic is happening, we empathize with each other and we pray for each other. We take meals to folks who are going through bad times and we celebrate with those who have good things happen to them. At Christmas, Fourth of July, Thanksgiving and Halloween (among other times), people (ones we know) bake goodies and bring them to the police department for the officers to snack on. They send cards and write friendly notes and say thank you. Lots of businesses listen to police scanners during their days to find out more about what's going on in town as well as to pay attention to the fire calls. Since we have a volunteer fire department, and many businesses have a firefighter or two working for them, this becomes a wise idea. When there is a fire or an accident, everyone pays attention and asks around about it because if it happened to someone local, it very well could be someone you know.

Many, many of our kids join the military. Last time I checked there were about 75 kids currently serving. It's seen as a good way to get life experience and to serve. We're proud of our heroes and like to keep up on how they're doing wherever they may be stationed. Being the mom of a daughter in the Air Force and another daughter considering the Marines, I make it a point to ask other military parents how their kids are doing. I know I appreciate it when they ask me. In fact, I just started reading a book about how the small town kids are the majority of the kids who join the military while the big city kids are the ones who typically do not. That sure is true here.

We have some real negatives that happen here and rather than rewrite them, take a look in the labels under "marijuana" or "police department." One of the negatives just started up his street bike (very loudly, as usual) and left (again very loudly). Are they still dopers if they've had their dope taken away from them? I wish he would just MOVE.

I think some of my small town mentality comes from my folks . . . probably more my mom. Or maybe it's just their generational thing. My mom was raised in a little tiny town in southern Iowa (I was born in Iowa). We were brought up to have manners; to get up and get out of a chair for either our Mom or Dad when they came into the living room. We ate dinner together every night. Oh, I'm a PK, too. My dad was ordained a Baptist minister and he also worked with kids for years and years. He was ordained and raised Baptist, but we were pretty much nondenominational for the majority of our lives. I have good memories of those years. My folks were generally very good at not expecting us kids to be perfect. I would say we had a very normal upbringing for our generation. Think The Walton's. :0) When he stopped being a pastor, at about 55, he went into the training and teaching field for Orchard Supply Hardware, which was later bought by Sears. He ran the training department for both organizations and really stressed customer service for all of the managers he trained. You can still see it if you go into any of those stores and deal with people who went through his training program. I digress again, don't I?

I just popped into Babs' site again to reread something she'd written about the South. Check it out here. Much of it really is appropriate for our area, too. They have catfish, we have crawdads (ok, we have to get them from somewhere else), trout and abalone. We definitely DO have vegetarian and vegan and all that stuff. In fact, you can find several organic and vegetarian restaurants in town. Hippies gotta eat somewhere. And the people who drive the expensive cars here are more than likely to be the growers. Here's why.

Let's say that Joe Neighbor grows marijuana for fun and profit. Let's also say that each plant produces 5 pounds . . . shoot, let's be conservative and say that each plant only produces 1 pound (I know of a grower recently whose plants were producing 7 pounds of quality "bud" per plant). Joe N. sells his pound of processed bud for $2,000. That's his return on ONE plant. Now. Say Joe N. follows our county's guidelines and he has 25 plants, all for his own medicinal use, of course. He has an indoor grow so he's able to have about 4 harvests a year. For each harvest, he's getting, VERY CONSERVATIVELY, $2,000 per plant. That's $50,000 per harvest times 4 harvests equals $200,000 a year. If you want to look at it a little more realistically, multiply it by 5 so that each plant produces 5 pounds instead of 1. THAT'S why we have so much growing here. That's also why some people have $10,000/month (no mistake on the number of zeroes) electric bills, too. So there is some overhead you have to pay for. Well, I said I wouldn't talk about the pot, but there I am. Oh well.

Marijuana for profit (I'm not talking TRUE medicinal needs) is a scourge on society. We have more murders and crimes relating to marijuana but if you want to talk about a drug that ruins lives, then you're talking methamphetamine. Unfortunately, this being a rural area, meth is manufactured here and readily available. It truly ruins peoples' lives. All of the foster kids we had over the years had parents who were hooked. I've seen normal people with jobs and families start to use and then just lose everything that had ever been important to them. Unfortunately, it seems like so many of them never quit. So now I've REALLY digressed. Must close this out and this is as good a time as any.

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