Growing up, it was my dream - and the dream of pretty much all of my friends - to get out of our little town (population, around 9,000) in Southern Illinois as fast as possible. Like our parents, most of whom returned to West Frankfort after their city explorations, we all wanted the adventure of the big city. When I arrived in the city, though, I almost immediately wanted to return home.
Because of various circumstances, I didn't get to return home, but much later in life, I ended up in a town about a quarter of the size, a town I'd dreamed of living in most of my adult life. For nearly 30 years, I'd been traveling to Lyons and Allenspark for writing and spiritual retreats and when it was time to leave, I'd cry halfway home. Now (I'm still pinching myself) I live here.
Used to, I thought nothing of sitting in congested traffic for 90 minutes, but now I grumble during a cruise through a larger mountain town, and become downright annoyed when I pass more than three cars on my way to the cabin where I write in Allenspark.
At Ralph Ford's Produce Market, kettle corn sits in a big container outside for sampling, and Bob and I buy bags of it here, along with homegrown tomatoes, freshly ground spices, condiments, local honey, and other yummy things. When we decided to permanently get rid of more plastic by no longer buying liquid soap, we bought bar soaps here, handmade in Lyons. During our second shopping spree here, when we discovered we didn't have enough cash on us to pay for our purchase, Ralph told us just to take our stuff and bring the money by later. Bob's never lived in a small town and he talked about that for days.
I've drunk tea at the Stone Cup for more than two decades, but now Bob and I stop by there once or twice a week for breakfast or lunch, which they began serving five years ago. Mindy and Robin know how I like my sandwich and what kind of tea I drink. Sometimes Bob and I hang out for some live folk music, and I leave my New York Times for other customers, along with a little money for unfortunate people, which the owners serve through donations. The Stone Cup is our version of Cheers, except that it's a cheerful little daytime place with more tables on the patio than indoors.
While picking up the flowers at Living Arts Exquisite Floral Designs, the owner, Jeralyn, drew me a map for an alternative way home from Boulder, so I could avoid hitting the elk and deer that continually cross the main highway that goes into Lyons. Jeralyn's neighbor just hit an entire herd of elk on that main road, one of them coming through the windshield, and now some of us look to avoid that road at night altogether. When my flowers died, I took the vase back to Jeralyn so she could "recycle" it with flowers for another customer.
I could talk about one of the biggest festivals in the state that's held here, or locally famous Oskar Blues (where Bob and I go for beers and great music) but nah, instead I'll tell you about being able to get freshly-baked challah and other breads at not one bakery, but two. All three of our little grocers carry organic, healthy food, a good deal of it local.
Bob and I are on the waiting list for an office in Lyons, in the hub of our two-block long downtown, with a window that looks out on the mountains, and a balcony that overhangs the bakery and a sandwich shop.
Our dogs swim in the creek and see the local veterinarian, Susan Scariot, who is tied with one other veterinarian as the best veterinarian my family has used in nearly six decades.
If we have to wait an hour for our appetizer at one local restaurant, we just have an extra glass or two of wine; the owners, a husband-and-wife team, cook meals seven days a week there and we know when we get our meal, it will have been worth the wait.
A neighbor on our mountain plows our long driveway for a little money or a couple of cases of beer.
In the towns surrounding us, we have coffin races and hula hoop dancers and stoned guys dancing on roller skates to live music and little bands springing up on the sidewalks and square dancing under the stars and hiking trails that wind all through the mountains.
Clotheslines stretch along our back yards, and when we can, we bicycle to the movies.
I miss my friends and family, and I miss a couple of restaurants where I used to live, but other than that, I just don't miss the city. Our near-weekly little mountain town festivals are way more fun than the passive entertainment of the city.
I hope to die here, in this town I've loved all my life, but first, I want to do a lot more living - stopping for kettle corn and soap and tomatoes and chai tea and live music and just getting to know my community.
Oh, and I'm holding out for that office that's temptingly close to the best bakery in Colorado.
Loving little town life,