The 1960’s and 1970’s were exciting times of change, I managed to live through both decades with few scares to show at the end of it all. My parents however were very anxious about the times, they were children of the Great Depression in the 1930’s. Both grew up in small towns, my mom was in Eatonville, Washington, my did was in the very German influenced southern Indiana town of Jasper.
For me, small towns were the stuff of parental folklore, the proverbial “…place where even squares can have a ball.” My lot was that of Washington DC (arguably the center of the political universe), that is until I was 12 years old; two years after dad passed away mom moved all four of us (older sister and brother, me and a younger sister) to live with her mother in the land of lumberjacks, small town taverns and abandoned mills… Eatonville Washingotn. The year was 1970, the first year the Washington Redskins had a non-losing season in 15 or more years, the Washington Senators baseball team was sold and moved to Texas, the year Bridge Over Trouble Waters and Easy Come, Easy Go were chart toppers.
Life in Eatonville wasn’t so good for a city boy like me, every local bully wanted to make his bones beating up “my kind.” I was mostly oblivious to the things that made small towns live so vividly in our tales of by-gone eras. Other than my time hanging at the local Kid’s Pool Hall playing pinball to the song, “War” by Edwin Starr, and perhaps my first real victories as a trout fisherman at the Kid’s Pond (do we see a theme here?)… oh yes, learning to ride horses, playing summer baseball, reading my first novel at the local town library, seeing a four point buck near the railroad tracks for the first time, it was a forgettable ye…. who am I kidding, it was a pretty good year other than the fights. (By the way, I won every one of them too!)
The remainder of my teenage years were spent in a very small area of the Gig Harbor peninsula (across the Narrows Bridge from Tacoma Washington) called Arletta. I finally discovered what it was like to see the same friends year after year until we all graduated from high school.
I can’t say I’ve lived in a small town since 1977, but 30 years later I met and married a small town girl from Canada!
This weekend I experienced the small town folklore recalled by my parents and grandparents for myself. My wife and I were visiting our kids in Courtenay, British Columbia (Vancouver Island) as we have done on many occasions since getting married in 2007. We had a various social calls to make on Saturday and hoped to have a bit of time to change out the old wiper blades on our RV. What should have been a simple task became something more than that quickly. On the advice of a local RV dealer (they didn’t carry wiper blades) we headed over to large vehicle repair shop, fully stocked with everything semi-trucks and RV’s need for life on the road. Since I wasn’t sure how long our blades were I took a few pictures and used my hand-spread as a visual reference.
We were at Bill Shields (locally know as just ‘Shields’) shop. He looked at my photos and scratched his head, then disappeared for a moment, returning with his tape measure to see exactly how wide my thumb to middle finger spread was. Again, Bill disappeared to a back aisle and soon came back with three sets of blades ranging from 22″ to 26″. Since we were ultimately unsure of the proper size Bill pushed all the blades at me and said, “Just take’em and see which fits. Bring the others back.”
The thing is Bill refused to take our money when we asked about the cost of a pair of blades. He said he didn’t even know how much they were!
He proudly proclaimed he was a mechanic and hired staff to do the computer work! I laughed at that. Good for you Bill, I thought to myself. He insisted we try the blades first and upon our return we’d square up… some how.
So off we went to replace our miserable wiper blades with fresh ones from Bill Shields. Back at the RV now we quickly discovered our blades with the 26″ variety and promptly put the others in the car for safe keeping. The driver side assembly came apart easy enough and in about five minutes it had it’s first new wiper blades in probably 10 years or more. The passenger side was a different story. The small nut was rusted on, fortunately we had some WD-40 at the ready but to no avail. I didn’t have the right tool to hold the nut in place while I turned the bolt, so off to the local Walmart. I determined the best tool for the job was a nice new needle nose Vice-Grip for $10. Minutes later I was putting the grip on the nut, confident I, and not the nut, was going to win. Instead of winning, the nut and screw killed itself by allowing me to twist it’s head off completely. I thought, now I’m really screwed! (big grin) I hate when that happens.
Off to the local auto parts/hardware store on another adventure in a day chalk full of them. I didn’t need an elaborate ‘fix’, just a few washers, a nut and a small bolt. The eager Parts-Counter Guy (Lordco) quickly went to a rack and started show me the items I was seeking. The challenge came again when I tried to pay. Parts-Counter Guy took what I needed from stock that is sold by the box, that was a fail on his part. He called over his supervisor, but neither could find the right part number to use in charging me. Finally, the supervisor said, “Consider the parts a gift, we can’t find the right piece part prices.” I insisted on paying but she would have not part of it (big grin… ‘part’ of it, get it?). Her insistence was greater than my insistence, so I thanked her and departed.
Of course this time I was able to fully complete the wiper replacement I’d started hours earlier.
On this day in Canada, I knew why my parents held on to their stories of life in small towns, be it Indiana, Washington or British Columbia. Even in our modern times, these gentle villages tucked away off the main thoroughfares are a friendlier place to live; people are quicker to believe in your goodness than in your greed. That’s hard for a Washington DC born kid to get his hands around.
I think I have a bit of parental folklore to pass on to my children and grand children now, that I didn’t have before.
Thanks for reading this far.