Ever picked up a small-town newspaper or county magazine? If you haven’t, you’re missing out. I love a good local paper. From the headlining articles to the advertisements, I read with rapt fascination and incredulity, calling out to my husband at every page turn, “Listen to this!” Not because they’re outlandish or bizarre, but because of their unadulterated morality. It boggles my mind that in this day and age, communities of Pollyanna and Avonlea lore prevail! Is it Panglossian of me to be comforted by their existence? Perhaps so, and that’s why I secretly indulge in these by quiet lamplight after CNN and MSNBC finish trumpeting the nightly news.
I picked up one such small-town gazette on a recent hiking trip to a nearby New Mexico mountain village—which will remain anonymous, unless you look at a map and see that there are but a couple NM mountain towns in proximity to El Paso. So you may have a pretty good idea of where this magical community lies.
While walking this village’s main street, I came across the The Mountain Monthly newspaper box with its “Donations Please” coin slot. So I dug around in my wallet for spare change (wouldn’t it be wonderful if NYC took up this donation trend!), giving more than the monthly publication was probably worth, but doesn’t that always happen when you’re asked to give and not required.
Despite its small size, the quaint community had much to be proud and gloriously headlined the local bulletins and celebrities. The most notable item took up a quarter of the front page: a black bear photograph, the winning shot in the annual Nature Photo Contest. The finalists were displayed in a full-spread, color centerfold and included a hummingbird mid-flight, a raccoon in a tree, a brown mouse by a rock, a butterfly, a buck, a lizard and a bumblebee. All lovely images. The photographers’ names were printed in bold beneath, and I was delighted to see quite a few ‘youth’ artists in the top tier. I’m not sure how I’d feel about my ‘youth’ in the woods catching bears, coons and critters on camera, but hey, things are different out here.
Also headlining this edition was a feature on fire prevention week, hosted by the Garden Club, and an announcement for a public forum: a possible new ski area on the agenda. “There will be food, fun and brainstorming,” the forum boasted and ended with an encouraging,“We look forwarding to seeing you there!” And I wholeheartedly believe this journalist means it.
Turning the front page, I was greeted by stars and stripes in the corner pocket: “Proud To Serve.” A writeup on a local Air Force Airman, newly-graduated from basic training. Below his patriotic headshot was an announcement for a local bar whose weekly lunch special was Green Chili Stew and an all-you-can-eat steak night. Other advertisements included a “Honey Do on Wheels…,” which I found particularly brilliant. A self-service dog wash—curious what that entails. Tree pruning, leaf raking and stump removal businesses. Cabins to rent for a steal of a deal. Old Western portraits. The kind where you dress up in saloon girl garters and corsets for a sepia shot—like all ‘Western’ women were employed by whorehouse. Tsk, tsk. Okay, so I’ll take 84 percent of that cynicism back. It was a very lucrative profession back then. (Note: The term ‘lonely cowboy’ didn’t come from nowhere.)
On the next page was the feature, “A good man who lived on a small hill.” Beside it, “Thanks to all who helped church garage sale succeed.” A mini-sermon was printed in the monthly “Pastor’s Corner.” Two pages are dedicated to the town’s history with this month highlighting the pioneer loggers. The remainder of the newspaper was sectioned into the headings of Opinions, Forest, Sports, School and Around Town. The latter of which included the community calendar (the playhouse staging of Little Red Riding Hood was highly praised) and the Senior Center daily menu: Tuesday was BBQ chicken thighs, creamy coleslaw, green beans, roll, chocolate pudding w/toppings. Yum!
On the Opinions page, a resident wrote a loving column about the devotion and support of her two sons. The intimacy nearly made me blush. It was the kind of stuff most folks today would only put in personal journals, if there. The honesty was refreshing and slightly unsettling. It’s documented that American society has grown increasingly isolated through the decades, and I see that evidenced in my own life. While I’ve met a majority of my El Paso neighbors, if I needed a cup of sugar, I’d probably drive to the supermarket before asking one of them. I know, sad, but I think that’s become the norm for most. I argue that this is exactly why the rare homespun community is so appealing—like unexpectedly ambling into an American Shangri-La.
Picking up the newspapers in various country towns is very much like reading a new novel for me. I get to meet the characters, see the setting, hear about the local struggles and successes. I imagine the paper’s chief contributor as a contemporary town crier, ringing her bell in the neighborhood square. It’s gripping stuff, I assure you! But what sends me over the edge is that it’s not fiction. I continually remind myself of that as I study the photograph of the young Air Force airman, the tree fellers advertising their skills, the shop owners in their storefronts, the candids of residents at craft festivals and pancake breakfasts and basketball games. These are honest men and women, living each day with the hope that it’s better than the one before.
So call me a cockeye-optimist, but I’ll continue to stop by the little country store and grab an inky paper from the rack. I can hear the news from Fallujah and the GOP healthcare debate any minute of the day, but when else could I read about the opening of The Cross-eyed Moose Cafe?
Yours truly, Sarah