Did you know that eggplants have gender? (Females have more seeds than males.) That you can tell if an avocado is good or not by peeking under its stem? (Green is good. If it’s brown, it’s too old.) That you should only store mushrooms in a paper sack? (They get sweaty in plastic — don’t we all?) 

All this and more I’ve learned from befriending the Rosauers produce staff. Not only do they know their stuff when it comes to fruits and vegetables, but they also know me — how and when I broke my ankle, and who helped me shop when I couldn’t do it alone. They treat me, my husband and fellow shoppers like friends.

I consider most everyone who works at Rosauers to be my buddy. I’ve known many of the Huckleberry’s staff for years — a lot of them were my customers when I worked in retail. I’m on a first name basis with the folks in the meat department. Most of the checkers know who I am;  I know their names because they wear badges! They also know that if I’m shopping, it’s likely that my mother-in-law is also there — we go to the grocery store together.

Likewise, the staff members who bag my groceries and offer to carry them out to my car are familiar to me. Jerry and Kristina were former elementary school students of mine, and Dave used to sell me electronics when he owned and operated the Radio Shack. 

I’ve lived in this lovely town for almost 40 years and feel lucky to call it home. I’ve always liked living in a place “where everyone knows your name.” I worked at the bookstore for 20 years, and prided myself on knowing my customers’ names and reading preferences.

When I was pregnant and went into labor, there was an Oak Street countdown to delivery. In the coffee shop, friends and fellow workers shared my progress — “She’s dilated to 8 centimeters!”  When our toddler daughter was stricken with meningitis and ambulanced to Doernbecher Hospital, customers — some friends, some strangers — collected money to help us pay our hospital bills. 

This past winter, my neighbors dropped off get-well cards and pots of soup when I was injured. On a regular basis, they help clear the snowy sidewalks in winter, and pick up our newspaper when we are out of town.

But things are changing in our little burg. When a neighbor’s shed caught on fire recently, we all ran out to see what was burning. I realized that day, though, that I no longer knew all my neighbors’ names.

Some have newly arrived in Hood River, but others have been here for several years without me learning something about them. Surrounded by smoke, we finally introduced ourselves.

Our neighbor Elaine has been working for a couple of years to make our neighborhood safer. To that end, she’s created a list of our contact information, organized potlucks, and invited the local emergency preparedness expert to join our gathering in order to help us be ready for any upcoming emergency. Other neighborhoods would be well served to follow Elaine’s model.

Not everyone in our neighborhood showed up at one of Elaine’s get-togethers. Where we live, many of the houses have revolving renters; they’ve become vacation get-aways for the wealthier set. Meanwhile, the laborers who work in agriculture, wash dishes in the local restaurants, or work as landscapers are either living as multiple families to a house, or commuting from The Dalles, where rent is slightly more affordable.

These days, I can walk on the streets of downtown Hood River and only recognize 10 percent of the folks who pass me by. Out-of-state visitors don’t know that in Oregon, pedestrians have the right-of-way. They fail to slow down or stop when I cross the street. And don’t even think about trying to find a parking place in the downtown corridor, but if you do luck out and find a space, load up the meter with money. A $26 fine is your punishment for letting the meter run out. In the “good old days,” the fine was a fraction of that.

Things are changing at Rosauers, too. Joyce and Pam, veteran grocery checkers, no longer work at Rosauers, having retired or moved to other parts of the country. Sheila, Huckleberry’s stand-up comic, retired several weeks ago. Checker Joni now works at Cascade Central Credit Union. 

In produce, there’s no need to check on the ripeness of an avocado. They’re prohibitively expensive — last week the price climbed to almost $2 each. I can’t blame the escalating price on my pals in produce. Instead, I’ll blame it on the new federal tariffs and the strangers that impose them. In Washington, D.C., no one knows my name, nor the names of thousands of children currently detained. 

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