By Tony Hooker
What to write when our world is at a standstill? All I can do is talk about it from my own self centered perspective, right?
Living in a city is a vibrant experience, with non-stop adventures of every stripe waiting around every corner. When I lived in San Diego, the beach was the main distraction, followed closely by the music scene. There were small clubs like Mary’s by the Pier, where local artists stopped by for open Mic events. There were larger venues like the Bacchanal, where lesser known regional and national acts plied their trade. The Balboa Theater housed the big name acoustic acts, and I remember enjoying John Prine and Arlo Guthrie, among others. Finally, the San Diego Sports Arena was the site for the biggest names on tour in the 80’s. And for a young sailor and his cronies that meant metal. Dio, Scorps, Judas Priest, Maiden, Van Halen. We caught them all. Living in the city as a youngin’ was as vibrant and fun as one could imagine.
What it didn’t have, even thirty-five years ago, was a sense of community, really. There was an overarching sense of civic pride, to be sure, but I never, in any of the places I stayed, knew who my neighbors were, Base Barracks notwithstanding.
And that’s not how I was raised.
Here in Villa Grove in the 70’s, we knew all of our neighbors. Heck, I probably knew who lived in 500 of the houses in town. And one thing I remember most is how we stood up for each other in times of need. In the first years of the decade, my step-dad was buried up to his chin in a construction accident when the wall of a sewer line he was excavating collapsed. He was off work for several months. Back then, single income families were the norm, and we were no exception. Mom stayed home and cooked and cleaned and wrangled us three knuckleheads, (for years the family joke was that knucklehead number 4 was proof that Dad was fully recovered!) and for our neighbors it was the same. So when dad got hurt, times were a little tough. The cool thing is, I don’t remember them as such. I don’t ever remember wanting for anything. Family and friends took care of everything while Dad was in intensive care for 6 weeks, with mom by his side constantly, and for the ensuing months of recovery. That’s how it is in a small town.
That’s how I was raised.
Fast forward to 2020, and things are different, and yet so very much the same. Maybe we aren’t as open with our neighbors, but then again, maybe we are. In this time of social distancing, we have to spend time apart, but I see people having long distance conversations from their respective back yards. I also see them coming together to support their friends and neighbors who are in the local restaurant industry. I did an informal poll on Friday, and the home town restaurants served well over 300 dinners. According to the googles, there are around 900 households in the river city, so that means that on that one night, somewhere near one third of our households chose to support our local venues. Of course, all of the folks ordering dinners from the local establishments are not a panacea, it’s a much more complicated issue than that, but it’s a bandage during these trying times, and it’s one that makes me proud of our hometown.