Friday, September 28, 2007

Life in a northern town

Telegraph road
Lancaster, Ontario, August 2007 [Click to embiggen]

The scene: Highway 401, just after we've crossed into Ontario on our way home from Montreal. I'm tooling along in the left lane, listening to tunes and calculating how much longer it'll take for us to get home. Suddenly, I notice something funny on the dashboard: a blinking light. And not just any blinking light: a blinking engine light. Uh oh.

I calmly ask Debbie to look it up in the owner's manual, because a blinking engine light is something I've never experienced in my kajillion years of accident-and-ticket-free driving. She quickly fetches the book from the glove compartment while thoughts of warranty claims, rental cars and hydraulic lifts fill my mind. It's the emissions control system, she reports. The car is drivable, according to the manual, but they recommend you get it serviced. Well, duh!

The ominous rumbling coming up through the steering wheel suggests the manual may have gotten it wrong. I pull into a rest stop, hoping it's a spurious code. When we get going again, it's still blinking. The wondervan accelerates like an early-'80s Lada and I know we've got a problem.

We limp to the next exit and happen upon a small garage beside the rail crossing in a small town known as Lancaster. It's approaching closing time on a Friday, but the owner and his mechanic do whatever it takes to diagnose the problem, get the part ordered (a cylinder coil pack), argue with the warranty company and ultimately get us back on the road. While they're at it, they entertain our kids and even allow the dog to roam free in the checkerboard-tiled waiting room. The owner even invites us to stay with his family if they can't get it fixed. It's the kind of attention we simply wouldn't have gotten had this happened in a larger city, and we're pleasantly blown away by the generosity of spirit here.

In the end, the van is fixed as the shadows begin to creep across the main street of this welcoming town. We stop off at the Dairy Queen down the road before we get back on the highway. It's a lesson in life that we won't soon forget, and I think this quiet place of gentle souls will become a regular stop on future trips back to our hometown.

Your turn: Why small towns matter. Please discuss.

About this picture: These are the telephone/power poles that line the railroad tracks beside the garage. We watched countless freight and passenger trains speed through town while we were there. It was a big deal to our kids, and they watched with wide eyes and blocked ears as the ground shook with their passage. Town residents, on the other hand, found it all routine. Just before we headed back out on the road, I took my camera to the tracks and captured this early evening scene. I wish I lived closer to this place so I could spend more time soaking it in.


Dak-Ind said...

oh Carmi, i grew up in a town like that! the biggest crime wave to ever hit Brownsville Oregon was when my cousin Jason and his girl got into a fight and she threw a shoe at him, which missed and broke a window. I grew up in a town where if i scrumped cherries off of "Nosey Rosey's" tree on my way home to grandmas from the market where i bought penny candy, grandma knew before we arrived. i grew up in a town where we stayed out playing with 10 other kids until the street lights came on. there were no predators, no kidnappers, no killers. there were neighbors who helped my mom when my dad left, with gifts of food and clothing. there were friends and cousins, who spent nights in a tent in the backyard with my sister and i, camping. the little grocery would run a tab, so old timers like my grandparents paid their bill just once a month, but bought food whenever they needed it. no interest! i could walk to the store with a note from my grandmother to purchase her cigarettes, and Chuck Smith knew if i had forged her signatue, and called her if he was wary! i lived in a town where to call my grandparents i dialed 3349. just the last four. no area code no prefix. i was safe, loved, and raised with respect. there were just 12 kids in my 1st grade class, and the principal had a wooden paddle. i loved that town and sorely missed it when my mom remarried adn we moved away. perhaps you have seen it. Brownsville Oregon is the town in which Stephen King's "the body" later called Stand By Me was filmed.

Bobkat said...

The kindness of strangers is always so unexpected that it touches us in a very life affirming way. I know my recent experience of this phenomena was like this for me.

I am very glad they got you safely on the road again. I'm afraid I have no expereince of the 'samll town' like you have in Canada and the US. Things are a bit different in the UK where we have cities and towns or villages. Some villages can be very strange or mistrusting of folk they don't know, though I am certain that good folk exist everywhere.

Michele sent me over to say hi and to say that I hope your sons leg is healing nicely. I haven't seen you over at my blog for an age, was it something I said, LOL! :)

Anonymous said...

Wow, what a fabulous turn of events and sweet family business you bumped into! That's a pick you up story that likes.

Anonymous said...

Small towns can be magical places - life's a little slower, and people deal with each other on a much more intimate basis. I think it's harder to pad bills when you know you'll see the person you're charging in church or temple sometime that weekend.

I lived in a small town for only a short part of my life - Georgetown, Co. My husband was born into a farm family, and lived in rural South Dakota most of his life. When we went back there last October to help prep the farm for sale, one of the emotional issues we had to deal with was the fact that his hometown - and many of the small agricultural communities around it - are disappearing, swallowed by factory farms and the lure of modern conveniences in the city. It's hard to keep kids on the farm, where they still have party lines, and the dish goes out if it snows, and water's from a septic tank, when there are McJobs and high-speed net calling them away.

His high school, which was a stately two story building, had been demolished and replaced with a one-story building - this is more jarring than you may realize.

Anonymous said...

Great story - I have no doubt that could have happend to you here in my town too. I came from a 'small town' in Massachusetts though- & it was (& Is) every bit as mean as the city.
I was blown away when I came to VA & found kindness & gentle- friendly people who still cared to be polite & ask where you were from & talk to you about that!
Here from Micheles today.

Anonymous said...

I have very fond memories of a very small town right off 401, not far from Lancaster: New Hamburg. For years, we went to the Mennonite Relief Sale there every summer. In the field and sports arena they would auction over a thousand quilts, sell thousands of pies and pork sandwiches, all in a day. The sense of community and charity and care would stay with me for weeks after- still, I guess, as I write this now.
Here in the big city, a person has to work at feeling connected to others; there it was a way of life.

rashbre said...

Wierdly, I was driving to a Northern town in the UK called Lancaster when something similar happened to me. I'd been blatting along a motorway and came to a Toll Booth on the M6 when suddenly my car lost all of its power. It still drove but was in 'get you home mode' as I think they refer to it.

I paid the toll and then pulled over to the side to decide what to do and thought I'd have to switch the engine off. There were no warning lights or messages in my case and when I switched everything back on, luckily it all worked again.

Suffice to say I drove to Lancaster and then called to book the car in for a service. I also needed a new and somewhat expensive bit, but it was also under warranty.

Now my experience didn't really use any small towns in the process, and most of the area around where I live has the effects of London.

I can still cycle or drive fairly easily to quiet rural areas with a small town feel, yet be remarkably close to the bustle of the big city. I kinda like it that way.

And hiya, today Michele sent me!


CG said...

I'm glad you had such a good experience. It's encouraging :)

Anne said...

I'm commenting before I even read the other comments, I don't want to lose track of my thought or be influenced.

Small towns: I immediately think, "It takes a village to raise a child." It's the support network connecting neighbors, support to make everything better. My neighbor and blogging friend badly broke her ankle almost two weeks ago, the community is pouring out support, food, visits, kid driving and care for her.
However our town isn't quite small enough where the town mechanic would offer such hospitality, I'm too close to the big city for that. But I do help out with my neighbors' kids, you know, the village thing...

Anne said...

Oh, yeah, Michele sent me.

Granny Annie said...

Okay, a family much like yours took a wrong turn on their trip and did not know where they were. They searched the map for any clue that might disclose their whereabouts. The dad pulled the van into a drive-in and asked the car hop, "Can you tell me where we are?" and the waitress slowly, distinctly with expression of pity, recited loudly, "DAIRY QUEEN"

Thumper said...

Small towns are incredible. When we flipped our truck over on Highway 2 in North Dakota after an ice storm, *so* many people stopped to help, to make sure we were all right...most of them offered to stay there and let us st in their heated cars while we waited for the police, and were willing to take us home. After living in places where the same situation would have had people stopping to see what we had that they could take, it was almost overwhelming.

Just a couple months later Grand Forks flooded, and the one TV station managed to stay on the air, the news anchor looking all rumpled and unshaven as he read off names and phone numbers for people who had housing available for those whose houses were under water...hours and hours of "Mr. Smith has room for 5 people, call this number. Mrs. Jones can take in 10 people and has space for 3 large dogs. Verner Oooflander has stable space, bring your horse trailers..."

I miss that. I don't miss the snow and ice in ND, but I miss those people and their fricking huge hearts.

Shephard said...

It may sound strange... but these remind me of redwood trees... tall slender, towering above. I kinda like them. Tho... not next to my house. :)

Michele sent me today!

Heather said...

That's a great story that reminds us there are still great people in the world.
I've been pleasantly surprised by the kindness of most people in my new town and I think stories like yours remind me of why I don't live in a large city but tend to gravitate to the suburbs.
I'm going to miss being so close to Canada and listening to the Canadian radio stations but I'm glad I found a town with similar people in it.
Thanks for stopping by and by the way - my dad hasn't used his oxygen in 4 days now. We are thrilled with his healing. He's even putzing in the yard again. Have a great weekend.

Paul Nichols said...

Hi, Carmi. Here from Michele's this pleasant weekend. Nice post. I grew up in a small town and have experienced many a train, many a telephone pole and many a time may parents acted like your garage owner. It's a good feeling.

Once I came home well after dark and the front door was locked. I had to bang and bang till someone let me in. "How come the door's locked?" I asked. "I dunno," was the reply.

craziequeen said...

I was born in a small English village, much like this probably.

I still remember playing cricket in a neighbour's orchard, scrumping apples and rhubarb from local gardens, and my mother has photos of me as a baby in the local fields and streams.

Which would probably partly explain my dislike of cities and big towns.


Anonymous said...

Small towns have a reputation for being technologically backward, but that reputation is often undeserved. Half Moon Bay, California, for example, is tucked away along highway one between Monterey and San Francisco...and it has one of the highest per capita numbers of home fax lines and highspeed internet connections in the state.

Of course, if I lived in a cute village on the Pacific, I'd work from home, too.

(Oh, wait...I already work from home. Well, still.)

And yes, this is my second comment on this entry today, but Michele sent me in this guise to visit you, and one simply doesn't say no to Michele. :)

Sara said...

Carmi, I never experience small towns until I was 50...and now I would not live anywhere else!

Although I have to say the neighborhood in which I lived in Florida was wonderful - but, then I moved into the house when I was 13 and never left til I was 50 - and all our neighbors moved in around the same time - so, we were in and out of each other's homes all the time.

craziequeen said...

This is a return visit to say.....

of course you should try the nanowrimo. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

And you are a very gifted writer, you would probably surprise yourself :-)

[big grin]


Lori said...

Carmi, this photo reminds me of my father because before he retired, he worked as a telephone lineman. These posts remind me of the 'old days' and all of the insulators he used to save!

As far as small towns, I believe they are the foundation for our country. I often wonder if people in the big cities think that the world revolves around them, but if they came to the rural heart of America, they'd see the spokes that turn a different wheel on a quieter path that is just as productive, just as wonderful.

Pat said...

I'm so glad the people of Lancaster treated you royally. I was born and bred in Lancashire(UK) so as a Lancashire lass I'm pleased you felt true Lancs hospitality. BTW I have just noticed the word 'embiggen'. I had seen it on another blog and took it to be a joke word but now I'm wondering. So many subtle differences to learn.
Michele sent her best as ever.

Unique Designs from Zazzle said...

small towns have incredible personality, living legends, and great folklore. real gems

Anonymous said...

Nice shot. Drink it in while you can. Watch the glass in its various colors twinkle in the light... The conversations and morse code once travelling past each and every one of those insulators as it traversed the wires. The stories they could tell. Thanks to modern tech, the rail roads are doing away with the telegraph poles. We've lost many around London that once stood high above delivering everyones messages. The old rail beds lie mournfully naked without their poles and glass atop...
As much as I like technology, theres a sadness seeing the poles disappear and a lot of nostalgic memories seeing the poles that still stand...

An insulator collector.

Anonymous said...

When I was 52 I moved from Toronto to a very small town in the south of France. 60 people! And loved it.

The first time I picked up my car from the local mechanic I pulled out my wallet to pay and he said "no, no, I'll mark it".

This spring I went to a shop in the next village - 225 people - and when I reached for my wallet found nothing. No chequebook either. Both were at home. I started to ask if I could leave the basket of stuff and come back later to pay and pick it up. Sandrine smiled and said "no, no, I'll make it. Pay me next time."

I spent the summer in Priceville, a very small town in Grey County. I was in Orangeville one Saturday and my old pick-up wouldn't start. Called CAA and had it towed to the garage in Flesherton. We left the ksys sort of hidden and left a note asking Frank to please fix whatever was wrong and that we would come pick it up the following Saturday.

On saturday we went to the garage and there was the pick-up, running and ready. Asked Frank waht the problem had been. He said that it seemed to be a loose connection to the fuel pump. Asked how much we owed him. He said "Don't worry about it, drive it for a while and if there's still a problem bring it back and we'll replace the fuel pump."

Stuff like this never happened in Toronto. Yay for living in the country!