Rhonda Cagle

Archive for November, 2011|Monthly archive page

Big City, Small Town

In Uncategorized on November 22, 2011 at 9:49 pm

Thirty years later, I still wax nostalgic about memories of home. A small town slice of Washington State Americana with a main street that sported hanging flower baskets and bunting during the summer months, complete with a Fourth of July parade and fireworks overlooking Birch Bay. I rode in that parade one year, sitting atop a float made by the youth group at my local church, Bethel Temple. I smiled and waved at the neighbors, shop keepers, and schoolmates I knew; all while eyeing the éclairs in the window of the Beilner’s Bakery and looking at the clothes, toys, and books at the Five & Dime three doors down.

I picked strawberries in the local fields and saved my earnings so I could shop at the Five and Dime and was a regular customer at the Beilner’s Bakery. Actually, to be precise, my mom was a regular customer at our friend’s bakery. I would frequently stop in for an éclair and a carton of milk. Mrs. Beilner would make a note of what goodies I was eating and have my mom settle the bill the next time she was in. I didn’t need money to get a treat at the Beilner’s. Mrs. Beilner knew where we lived and knew she would see my parents at church on Sunday. My bill would get paid eventually. That’s the way it works between neighbors in neighborhoods.

Fast-forward thirty years and 1,500 miles. My small town of 1,200 people has been overshadowed by a metroplex of roughly 3.2 million people. There’s no bunting – no Beilner’s Bakery. The fields where I picked strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and vegetables are merely a memory. They’ve been replaced by a freeway system that takes me to my church, my clients, and my appointments. It’s hard to find a sense of community. And forget finding anyone who will give you a bottle of water, let alone an éclair, without cash or a credit card.

And yet I crave community. I want to shake hands with the person who mixes and kneads the dough that becomes my bread. I want to have a conversation with the farmer who grows the yellow squash and zucchini that will accompany my broiled fish for dinner. I relish hearing the stories of the hens that lay the eggs I’ll scramble for breakfast. Slicing into a block of cheese, I find the flavors a bit richer and more complex if I can have a conversation with the artisan who crafted and melded this bit of dairy delight.

Last weekend, I rediscovered a bit of this long-lost community. I wandered up and down the aisles of the Avondale Farmer’s Market. And people smiled at me. They asked my name. They wanted me to sample their homemade and handcrafted wares. And they were delighted with my questions and the resulting conversation. The hens are indeed happy, cage- hormone- and antibiotic-free, running happily through fields like they did when I watched them as a child. A farmer extended a cracked and calloused hand to shake mine as he told me of growing tomatoes, squash, and onions in his fields in south Phoenix.

A woman named Deborah reminded me of my late husband’s Apostolic heritage as she proudly displayed her homemade peanut brittle.  I told her stories of my in-laws making peanut brittle for all of their church fundraisers. She told me the same stories from her own childhood, as well as the story of her blossoming business.

With the economy making things difficult, she began making and selling peanut brittle as a way to supplement her family’s income. A local restaurant owner sampled some and told her she needed to begin selling in mass quantities. Without a commercial kitchen, she couldn’t get past the health department. So the restaurateur offered use of her commercial kitchen after hours and a business was born. Today Deborah employs several people and her business is thriving. I bought several bags of her heavenly concoction, but not before getting a big hug and the encouragement to come back next week for more conversation and sugary confections. I plan on it.

It’s not the 1950s and we can’t go back to Mayberry. We live in a globalized society with a technologically-united workforce that works seamlessly between India and Indiana. But my farmer’s market re-establishes connections that can’t be found via the internet. Deborah coupled the sweetness of her handcrafted candy with a warm hug. And Raimondo, an elderly Italian man who has run a restaurant for 34 years, shared with me a loaf of crusty bread he had put into the oven at 3 AM earlier that morning.

For a few hours on a Saturday morning, my big city became a small town, connected through the craftsmanship and commerce of new neighbors. Community never tasted so good!

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Over the Back Fence

In Uncategorized on November 10, 2011 at 9:48 pm

Fall in the sunny Sonoran Desert means the flames of Hades are receding as God decides Arizona is not the prime location for Hell after all.  Sunburnt folks like me, parched and scorched from a summer spent at a level of Dante’s Inferno known only to desert dwellers, begin to inhabit outdoor spaces again. We garden. We take walks. We dine al fresco. And we reacquaint ourselves with our neighbors.

Located in a typical west Valley suburban neighborhood, my home backs to a greenbelt and walking path. Throughout the day, my neighbors pass by. Being a gardener, my yard causes people to slow down and take in the beauty of lavender, pansies, petunias, vines of every color, and trees now turning glorious shades of red and gold. I love seeing the smiles that come over their faces as they slow down or even stop their jogging, pausing to take in the beauty of God’s creation.

Some of these people have become staples in my garden. One woman, a work-from-home insurance broker, walks every morning with her dog. Her determined stride slows as she peers over the back fence to see if I’m out enjoying my morning cup of coffee. Spying me on the back patio, she smiles and stops to speak, her cheerful voice evidencing the fact that she is clearly a morning person. The fact that I am not is evident from my disheveled hair and lack of makeup. Still, it does not keep me from getting up and walking over to the back fence to visit.

Our initial “good mornings” have turned into discussions about snippets of life – living as empty nesters, how she gets her dog to behave so well as mine bark and leap manically at the back fence, the perfect crock-pot meal for a cool fall evening, and how the economy is affecting our respective sole-proprietor businesses. And always, there are discussions about my garden – how my winter grass is coming in, what herbs I’ve planted this season, how my tomatoes are coming on, whether or not I’ll be putting out poinsettias for Christmas.  Sometimes she asks advice; others she just comments on which color combinations she likes the best. The other day, she mentioned how she looks forward to walking by my back fence, stopping for a bit of seasonal color and conversation.

When I first bought my home, I planted vines along the back wall, hoping they would screen out the walking path and those who pass by each day. I’m glad they haven’t. Over the back fence, my neighbors and I enjoy my garden – and the friendships it cultivates.

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