Real lowdown on livin’ in a small town | TheUnion.com
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Real lowdown on livin’ in a small town

Every once in a while, someone will sidle up to me and murmur, “What’s it really, really like living in a small town? Isn’t the slow pace stifling? Does it remind you of Sinclair’s ‘Main Street’? What’s the real lowdown, Vivian?”

Living in Washington is pretty much what it must have been like in Grass Valley or Nevada City 50, 60 years ago, except Bigtown is in a valley and we’re practically buried in forest. I think it’s the little things that make Washington a bit different. Let me explain that with a couple of stories.

Maybe a month ago, on a miserable, rainy afternoon, I baked a couple batches of cookies. When they had cooled enough to stack on a plate, I called Washington School (which is right next door to my house, remember) and the answering machine kicked in. (The staff is busy teaching, so a machine takes the place of a secretary most of the time.)



At the beep, I said: “Hello there. This is Vivian. I happen to have a couple dozen fresh, straight-from-the-oven butterscotch chip cookies, great big soft ones. Strictly at your convenience, would you kindly send one of your students to pick them up for the kids? Anytime today would be fine. Thank- you.”

Then I picked up the plate of cookies, opened my front door and stood there. The air smelled of rain and wet earth and warm cookies, a memorable combination. I checked my watch. Seventeen seconds later the back door of the school crashed open and here came Kayla Wilson up the back steps, singing “Oh, it’s cookiescookiescookies.” She took them from me with a smile – “oh thankyouthankyouthankyou” and raced back down the steps, dodging raindrops, singing “Oh, I have cookiescookiescookies,” and disappeared into the school with the last resounding announcement: “COOKIES!”




You don’t have enough money to pay me for that tiny pleasure … and I can do it whenever I want. And I do. Can you?

One of our most-esteemed locals, Dave Barber, has a chest problem, and he’s stuck at the VA hospital in Reno doing a course of chemo. His adoring wife, Sam, drives up there almost daily to be with him … where one is, so is the other, without fail.

One day a big glass jar appeared in the bar that said “Barber Expenses.”

“Aw, it costs so much money to drive up to Reno in that clunker. …” Spanky nodded at Sam’s tired truck, “… so the jar’s there to help out on gas and stuff.”

“Well, who decided to put out a jar? Was there a meeting or anything?” I asked.

“Who cares where it came from? Who wants to know?” growled Gary Zielinski. “It’s there, that’s all. The Barbers are valued members of our community. They’re family. We watch out for each other, take care of our own. Since when do we need names of people who offer a helpin’ hand, fer cryin’ out loud? Just put some money in the jar, that’s all, no big deal.” Gary is right.

It’s my modest prediction that one day Bigtown will go the way of previously rural, relaxed Auburn, Lincoln, yes, even Roseville, and Nevada County will become totally, sadly citified. Alas. Then people will again grow hungry for old-fashioned warmth and friendly neighbors, an atmosphere of “what’s your hurry, come on in and set a spell,” a place where locals still keep a concerned eye on each other.

That’s when people will suddenly discover there’s far more than ordinary gold in places like Washington, Downieville, North San Juan and points in-between.

You can write to Vivian Herron in care of The Union, 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley, 95945.


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