This weekend Rita and I took the kids to the tree lighting ceremony here in Gresham. It’s part of our commitment to loving the place we are in. This is not always easy. Especially if the place you live isn’t your first choice. Gresham is a small suburb of Portland but lacks most of what we find appealing about the city. There are only a couple of decent restaurants. There is exactly one good coffee shop. Good bread can not be found here. The parks are not awesome. The politics are conservative (ours aren’t), and you have to drive everywhere.
Our living in Gresham is really a marriage of convenience. Our kids go to school probably 30 miles apart. Rita’s kids in Sandy (small rural community on the way to Mt. Hood), mine in downtownish Portland. Gresham is the geographical center of our lives. Both Rita and I work in Gresham. We have for many years. In this complex situation, it seemed that the best way to manage our lives was to live here. It’s not where we wanted to live but where we thought we could make a manageable life.
Our problem is that we like Portland way better. We love the coffee shops, restaurants, parks, bookstores, old neighborhoods, movie theaters, and dive bars. I’m not sure who our people are, but if they exist somewhere they probably would be in Portland. We identify more with liberal progressive values and we love the diversity and richness of culture found in the city.
Gresham is not much like that. Its politics are conservative, as are its values. People here love Olive Garden and Home Goods. The local coffee shop is Starbucks. Hippies, Occupy Portland, street food carts, and Powell’s Books seem like a world apart from the place we live. If you drive from Portland to Gresham you won’t exactly notice when you leave the one and arrive at the other. There isn’t a sharp line. It’s a fuzzy edge. The hip urban charm gradually fades into suburbs of tiny bungalows built in the 1950’s which fades into outer burbs of 1970’s split levels, which fades into Gresham.
So what do we do? We talked a lot about this. We don’t want to be suburb people. We don’t want to be people who sleep in one community but actually live, recreate, and participate in another. Our goal in this new community is to begin to find our place here. We are making intentional decisions to stay local when we can. We are hoping that if Gresham is not exactly the place we wanted to be we can help transform it.
How? you ask. Here’s what I think we can do:
1. Find our people. Don’t much know exactly who our people are, but I can say that they are progressive. They value diversity. They hate crock pot cooking and Applebees. They don’t spend weekends in front of the TV or at church. They don’t decorate with “country” chic. They don’t like wallpaper. The do like retro furniture but don’t go overboard with it. They value creativity, and art, and music. They don’t wear knee high white socks with shorts, or golf shirts. They might drive a Subaru (like Rita) but never a Hummer.
2. Participate. We aren’t sure yet how this will go. We want to be able to participate in this community in some sort of substantial way. We aren’t church people so we won’t do it that way. We aren’t very politically active so it probably won’t be that way either. Maybe join the neighborhood association? An advocacy group? Maybe some other way? We aren’t sure yet, but we know we’d like to be part of something that gives us ties to this place. We’re not much community involvement people, but I think it’s probably a good way to make some ties here.
3. Find our places. We want to find spots here that we like. This summer we found a great place on the Sandy river not more than 3 miles from our house. It’s a beautiful sandy beach with clear blue water, boulders, shade trees, and an ice cream stand. We found a coffee shop we like (the earlier-mentioned Cafe Delirium). There is a tiny mom and pop Mexican restaurant in a strip mall that we like. It’s nothing special but we like the couple that own it. The food is good and the lighting is OK. (Rita will typically pick a restaurant based on the lighting.) We’ve been exploring our neighborhood. We found some nature trails and a couple of foot bridges. We even found a tree house back in the woods.
4. Choose local. We want to support our local merchants when we can. We also want to participate in local events when we can. Even if they aren’t as cool at the ones in Portland. Gresham has a pretty good farmer’s market in the summer. It’s not as nice as the Portland one, but it’s local. This summer we went to a movie in the city’s new Arts Park.
To get back to the tree lighting ceremony-
It turned out to be mostly a Radio Disney affair. Not exactly our thing but we had fun watching the kids up front dance and sing. There was free hot chocolate and lots of smiles. The mayor was there to light the tree. The whole thing was quaint and small town and reminded me of Mayberry from The Andy Griffith Show. I really liked it for that reason.
The tree wasn’t perfect. Some of the lights didn’t work on one side. It didn’t have nearly enough to begin with. Nobody seemed to mind at all though. It was our tree and we were dang happy to have it. Radio Disney is probably a better fit for this community than Pink Martini, the local band who played at Portland’s tree lighting event.
Rita and I took the kids to this event because we want them to feel like this is their community too. Between all of us we are part of 4 different school districts and 3 different cities. We span a geographical area of some 30 plus miles. The one place we all have in common is Gresham. It’s our place and we are determined to make it home.
The big irony is that both Rita and I used to say that we could never live in Gresham. Here we are though. We’re finding our way. Just like with our 70’s split level you have to look a bit harder to find the charm. I think that hard looking is what ties you to a place though.
How about you?
Are you living in your dream town? Or not? What ties you to the place you live?