Wednesday, October 19, 2011

City Girl In A Small Town

Hubster got a teaching job in Merlin, OR, which is just outside of Grants Pass. The decade long trek to getting him through school and into teaching is done and now we are reaping the rewards.

Grants Pass has tourism and timber as its two main employment industries. Tourism has taken a big hit in the past two years. Real estate values are down by 50% and unemployment has always been high here even in good economic times. Right now it's in the double digits. I have to confess I was really hesitant about how I'd feel living here. While on one hand I didn't want to move, I knew that coming here where he had a job was the best thing for us to do.

To give you a frame of reference on the general size of the town, I think this is what brings it home the most. When he was student teaching for Beaverton, the school district served over 30k students. That was for kids in Beaverton alone, none of the other suburbs. The population in Grants Pass is roughly 30k. I knew I was in for a big change going from a large urban area to a small town.

The closest yarn shop is over 30 miles away in Medford, which is a 40+ minute drive depending on traffic conditions and of course that's where the closest quilting shops are as well. In Beaverton, there was a local quilt shop literally a few blocks away and the nearest yarn shop was about 15 minutes away along with a JoAnn's store in between the two.

I was a bit unhappy wondering what I would do to meet people because I figured the easiest way for me to meet people and make new friends was to join the local knitting group, quite often referred to as a, "Stitch n' bitch." I figured there were enough knitters in the area that there had to be at least one. Nope, not in Grants Pass. Apparently there are knitters here, but they've not found a good location to have a regular Stitch n' Bitch.

Ok, well I'd just have to find some people through quilting groups. I found three shops that carry fabric, one of which is a dedicated quilt shop and the others are also vac n' sew sales. Upon arrival I found quilt shop has gone out of business. I haven't yet been able to determine if the third one is open or not. Oh dear.

So then I thought about the library! The public library is open five hours a day Tuesday through Saturday for a total of 25 hours a week. Gee, that's not much. Nor does it bode well for the size of their book collection. I knew I was spoiled in Beaverton as the libraries there are very large and they are open 64 hours a week.

Right now I think once we've completely unpacked at least the living room and kitchen, I might start offering knitting lessons with an ulterior motive. If I teach enough people to knit, I may be able to start my own Stitch n' Bitch! Keep your fingers crossed for me.

Then there's the other factor of moving someplace new. Acclimatizing the population to me, or vice versa. As in being seen often and long enough that people eventually stop staring and asking questions about my skin when I go out.

Whenever I move, it takes several months, as in 6 to 9 before I stop being stared at everywhere I go and before the questions about my skin stop being a regular occurrence. In fact, to prepare for the stares, I designed a tshirt, "Keep staring. Maybe I'll do a trick." It's a copy of a tee that Hunter Steinitz wore to an Ichthyosis convention many years ago. I wear it whenever I have to go anywhere other than the mailbox in our development.

Now here's the unexpected part. People here are friendly. They are FRIENDLY. And polite. The day before yesterday, I went to the auto parts shop to get a battery for a car remote. The customer in front of me tripped on the edge of the display basket sticking out from the counter at the bottom. I asked, "Are you alright?" He kept going so I assumed he was fine and didn't hear me. I paid for my purchase and went to my car.

I was surprised when he walked up to my car and tapped on the window. "Why was he doing this?" I wondered.

He said, "I'm sorry. I was rude to you."
"Excuse me?"
"I was rude to you in the store and I owe you an apology?"
My jaw moved up and down as I was replaying everything in my head. "I didn't think you were rude."
"Well, I was and I wanted to apologize."
Then he waved around his eyes and asked "Doesn't that hurt?" referring to my ectropian. Oh boy, here it comes, first person asking about my skin.
"It can, but it's just an effect of a larger issue."
"That's probably a long story, isn't it?"
"Yes, a very long detailed one."
"That's ok, I don't need to hear it, I know what it's like to have to explain it all the time 'cause I have a back injury." and after that we made small talk for a minute or two about how it was a beautiful day and he wished me a good day and we parted ways.

Never in all my almost 40 years of life has anyone, anyone ever asked politely about my skin and then reacted the way he did. He mostly wanted to apologize and make sure I didn't need help. He didn't ask any personal questions beyond what I just recounted. You could have knocked me over with a feather.

I have never ever lived in an area where so many people are so friendly! Yes, I get stares though people seem to catch themselves fairly quickly if I'm wearing my shirt, and after being here for 17 days, no one asked me about my skin! One guy made a passing comment, "You look like you stayed out too long before you came in." as he was pushing a grocery cart past me in the meat department at Safeway but still, that's pretty mild for what I usually get when I'm in a new area. If I'm just passing through an area, I usually just wear sunglasses the whole time because most people don't notice my ichthyosis unless they can see my eyelids, or my skin is painfully dry and I can avoid the questions and get very few stares other than perhaps people wondering why that lady is wearing sunglasses while she's grocery shopping?

So I haven't made any friends face-to-face yet, and I am very lonely missing all my friends up north, but I think it's going to be ok here. These are good people and of all the places my husband could have ended up with his first teaching job, this is pretty nice.

Pictures will be posted once the pile of moving boxes has disappeared from the house.


PNWBookGirl said...

Over 25 years ago when my then husband and I moved to Bandon we noticed the same thing. Much smaller town than where you are now, but overall very friendly people. People holding doors open for you, saying hi and smiling.

Major drawback - a lot of stores were closed on the weekend! Made it really hard to setup that waterbed we moved down with. ;-)

Hope things go well with your new move and definitely grow your own knitting group!

Kaessa said...

Stop in at the 4th Street Bakery Deli... that's my Mom and Dad's bakery! You can't miss my Mom, she looks like an older version of me.

I miss Grants Pass, such a friendly little town. I loved it there.

jagarland said...

We've moved several times with Tom's job and it's always so hard to get acclimated. Keep plugging along Chandra. I think you starting that stitch N bitch group is a good idea. Sure is one way to make friends. I wish I had a similar group when we lived in a small town in ILL.

Cindie Kitchin said...

Welcome to Grants Pass. We've been in Southern OR for 20 years now, 11 of it in the Illinois Valley - we came from living our whole lives in DC. Culture shock, yes, but small town living is great. I haven't gone but I understand there's a newer knitting group meeting at the Abbey's by Fred Meyer (I think) on Fridays. If you're on Ravelry I think there has been talk about it on the State of Jefferson group or the Grants Pass group.

CastIronCook2 said...

This is wonderful news (the friendliness in Grants Pass), confirming what we'd suspected. Hubbest and I are moving there in February and are presently in a state of keen anticipation. Did you get a Stitch 'n Bitch going yet? Like you, it seems to me the most natural way to meet people is through shared interests.