Rhonda Cagle

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 They’ve been replaced by a freeway system that takes me to my church, my clients, and my appointments.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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  1. Ugh. Yes, I am missing my small community. I asked Chris where the nearest small town was so I could get my fix ASAP. Luckily, I only have to head a few miles out of this metro and it will take me into the shadows of Mt. Hood where there are small little one stop light towns scattered around. I am on the prowl for a good Farmer’s Market as well 🙂 That peanut brittle sounds amazing.

  2. Farmer’s Markets are a GOD-SEND in today’s society. I support the Ramona Market every chance I get. Beautifully written Rhonda. It’s nice to read nostalgic stories that are laced with hope for today – instead of those that leave you pining for yesteryear. Thanks for sharing your new-found treasure trove. 🙂 Enjoy that brittle! YUM! (Oh, do you happen to have my mailing address??? You couldn’t possibly eat all that yourself!) haha

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