Wednesday, December 5, 2001
I grew up in suburban Chicago, in a town chosen by my parents for its excellent schools and its proximity to my father's place of work. We enjoyed the big city nearby and benefited greatly from the offerings of the school system. However, both my parents were from rural Illinois, and it was with great pleasure that I would take frequent trips to visit my grandparents. Besides the delicious meals and loving hugs, I remember being thrilled that I could go into the local five and dime and be greeted by folks who were not only friendly, but knew who I was visiting because I looked like my mom: "Now are you Lillian Mae's daughter or Norma Jean's?"
After moving a few times to places where I felt out of my element, where I felt a bit like a cog in a wheel, I found Hood River. I had been living for a few years in an area that was overrun with development, and where the smog from the big city two hours away affected the air quality so badly on several occasions that my first grade class could not go outside for recess. I decided to move to a place that had strong land use planning laws that would keep the mountains and rivers healthy for its residents and where I could feel at home. I chose Oregon, and at the suggestion of a friend who had picked fruit in the area, and the assistance of almanacs and other reference books from the library, I packed up my belongings and moved to Hood River.
My first surprise upon moving to this town in 1979 was to find that people were friendly to me, a young stranger without a job. I met people who remembered me and my personal goals and plans from one week to the next. These people were the small business owners in town, the local school district officials, and the local members of the American Association of University Women where I met a number of women of different ages and backgrounds who all admired education and our human and natural resources. I discovered a small bookstore, an art gallery, and a family of orchardists who welcomed me into their midst for Thanksgiving dinner and pleasant conversation. I discovered others who loved the Spanish language, and I discovered hardworking natives of Mexico with whom I could enjoy that language. Best of all, I could tell one and all that I had moved here "on a song," after researching the town in a California library, and that no one could turn the hills and the valley into suburban sprawl because we were protected by geography and love of the land and by the laws of this land.
Now I worry about losing that protection the community has had, and the hard work so many have put in to preserve a friendly, small town atmosphere. No, actually, it's not just atmosphere; it IS a small town! I worry that the desires of the 10th largest public corporation, to which we are merely a fly speck, will win out over the rights and needs of our local community and our way of life. Don't get me wrong; I don't deny that people need the option for low cost products. Many of our fellow residents appreciate the chance to save money on items they need for everyday living. What we don't need, however, is to create traffic jams, wider roads, more air and noise pollution.
I can live with a normal Wal-Mart, and am proud that the strip malls of my childhood days are in The Dalles and Portland, and not in my beloved Hood River. Please do what you can to keep it this way.