Thursday, March 25, 2010

More Odds and Ends

There are TWO blogs this week, along with this first "odds and ends" which is simply a compilation of things which happened this week that said to me "Wake up, smell the coffee. THIS is small town like you hoped for."

Take for instance the comment from Shana that Stephi (of Mike's BBQ) had claimed her apple pie is better than mine. (She's GOT to be kidding.) This led to a challenge. On October 2nd, at Mike's BBQ, Stephi and I will have an Apple pie bake off. We don't have the details worked out yet, but it may cost you a little to be a "taster" (judge) but all proceeds are going to the winner's charity of choice (so your donations will be going to The Michael J. Fox Foundation, since that's my choice. Yes, I can be a bit overly competitive, but when you are the youngest of four you get that way.) That date is also my Mother's 98th birthday, and I can't think of a better way to celebrate it than for her to watch me beat you.

Over dinner this evening, Ann said she gleaned from my blog that I was perhaps reluctant to come to Port Gamble and that I was surprised by what I found here. Guilty as charged!

I mentioned to one of the "in charge" people that I had been considering doing a page on the Flag as Port Gamble's "symbol" (EVERYBODY in the area knows about the flag!), but that I didn't feel comfortable being such a new-comer making an issue out of the flag flying at night and not being lit. By sunset that day (today) the flag is lit and can be proudly seen for miles around (or would be if the rain didn't having it sticking to the pole), no requisition, no triplicate paperwork, no excuses, just a simple, small town, "get it done" attitude.

Yes, Ann, I might have been reluctant, but I'm a firm believer now!

The Sign Lady

I'm trying not to rush through the stories of the unique individuals who live here and what they have to bring to the world, but one stands out for the effect it's had on me much more than any other. And I must admit I'm so sensitive to the person's situation that I'm going to ask her if I can have her permission to mention it before I "publish" this. If you are reading this, I got it.

I call her the sign lady. Kris and I were given two names of sign makers who would be helpful to use for Kris' business in Port Gamble (she's moving her quilt store to the old Stables building, but that is MANY stories, to be told later). Not a-typically the lady chose the lady, and we went to visit the business she shares with her husband.

She began the session by astounding me with her candor. "Hi. I'm Mollie. I sound like I have an accent, but I really don't. It's because I have MS. Now lets look at some sign possibilities for you." I think of myself as being sensitive to people with disabilities (which some diseases or conditions are) because I suffer from one myself, Parkinson's Disease. (Why do they call it a "disease"? I'm not contagious.) But I've never met anyone who would state their situation as bluntly as Mollie did, not to gain sympathy, not to make herself stand out because of it, but simply to state in her own way "I have a disability, but it's not going to get in our way, so get used to it, because that's just the way I am."

I wanted to express my gratitude for showing a new attitude, but I was so taken aback that it was a few weeks before I returned to thank her for showing me a new way to approach my increasingly visible condition. How should I approach people in public to let them know that I have a condition that they may think makes me a "weakling?" since I no doubt will end up in a wheel chair … or worse. I've been proud of thinking I've been hiding it for 13 years, only to be told by a young, vibrant lady through her demeanor "Why hide it? It's what you are. Don't be ashamed; don't be proud. Just let the world know that it is part of what you are and get on with your life."

Thirteen years of living in a quandary, settled by thirteen seconds of demonstration from Mollie.
Now I'm not sure, but I think if Mollie lived in the big city she might have a different attitude. When you have to compete HARD and RUTHLESS for your business it is difficult to admit there is anything "weak" in your existence. But in a town as small as Port Gamble, you can't hide what you are, you can only BE what you are. And I'm finding this to be incredibly refreshing. The lack of pretense here is healthy and seems universally to be the case among those who are a part of this place.

Mollie and her husband live a block away in Port Gamble. I'm hoping the four of us will be good friends. Like so many others here, they have a lot to offer, if you let them.

The visitors

This weekend was a fun time for Kris and I. It was the first visit of our daughter, son-in-law, and twin almost-3 year old granddaughters to our new home. We weren't sure how it would go. After all, our last town is still called a "small town", but it has more stores, more parks, in addition to the non-small town items of more traffic, more congestion, more crime, etc.

Our "routine" every morning was just what I hoped it would be. We would leave the house shortly after breakfast (except the day we planned our meal to be at the General Store ) and across the street to The Gamble Bay Coffee Co. for hot chocolate. Yes, the girls needed help getting across the street (that should read "the highway"), but apart from the two times crossing, they were free to roam as they wanted, something they could NEVER do at our last house.

Down to visit the workers at Grandma's new quilt store (, in to see Laura and pick up the mail at the Post Office, across to see the friends they had made at the General Store, then home again. On nice days the girls had a park to play in.

Today they left. What an amazing five days can be had in a small town with kids that age. "The nicest things here?" my daughter repeated my question over cocoa this morning. "Probably the back yards," she said, surprising me, "Since everyone shares them, it's like a huge playground." It is true. There are no fences and everyone keeps their personal items off the yards, so when the crew at Port Gamble mows, it is like a huge back yard. The residents have grown accustomed to seeing strangers in their yards, so when local kids come through there are no complaints, no yelling, and no suspicion.

"And," she added, "there's an amazing amount to do here." Of course girls that age don't take much entertaining, but even so, they were easier to keep busy than they had been on our ten acres, where we had to watch them constantly lest they wander into our 10 acres of trees. A person might not notice these things without the benefit of 3 year olds to take care of, but little things like the shell museum in the General Store being a block away makes a big difference. As I've said time and time again, "No where else but Port Gamble is quite like this place."

We are looking forward to the years ahead when the girls will have even more freedom to wander through town, even walking across the highway to get to the BIG playground, then later, when the event weekends take up Grandma and Grandpa's time, I'll feel comfortable that they are safe, having fun, and enjoying the experiences of "small town life." I can only hope THEIR children will too.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Q and A's or FAQ's

I've always wanted someone to send me questions. ( The "ottopart" is left from when I owned an "auto parts" store. Tricky, eh? My next door neighbor at the time had a business refinishing furniture and selling unfinished furniture. We called him "Woody," and me "Otto." Only in a small town would we concern ourselves with such trivia.

It makes a person feel so important when he thinks he has knowledge other people want. And what a joy to have FREQUENTLY ASKED questions. Without them one starts wondering if anyone is even out there. Well, I know that some of you are. You give me enough flack when you see me on the streets (I keep forgetting ... on the "street") of Port Gamble. Maybe I should put a counter on here to see how many of you there are. No, there are some questions even I know not to ask.

Q.What is your schedule for these writings?
A. I've decided to limit myself (and you) to one a week, which will come out on Fridays.

Q. What are you trying to do with this?
A. Just tell a little of the fun of living in a small town, the unique things that happen, that either can't or rarely do occur in the big city. Beyond that, although I am NOT a Chamber of Commerce representative, I think there are even more whimsical things happening in this little wide spot in the road in North Kitsap, called Port Gamble, as well as organized activities that can be shared.

Q. Any plans for the future?
A. None for me, thanks. I'm having too much fun with the present.

Q. Any disclaimers?
A. Yes, my wife (Kris) is moving her quilt store to Port Gamble and re-opening it April 20th, so we are tied to the success of the town.

Q. Why did you pick Port Gamble?
A. Are you kidding? Go back and read these blogs. The people here are fun to spend time with and have interesting stories to tell (I've barely gotten started with them). I love small towns. This one is recovering from a possible collapse, and the proper leadership has been brought in to keep it going. Living in a successful small town? All is right with the world.

Thursday, March 18, 2010


I was told recently, by one of the people who I thought was a supporter of this town, that in March the town is full of murder and mayhem. Now I've seen people walking into my house without knocking, but that's far cry from murder, and if murder is common in March then either Kris and I are going on vacation for a spring month every year or .... I don't know what, but I don't want to move.

Well, I talked to two of the MANY people who put events together for this town (Lyn and Shana) and feel better now. At least THEY think it is "play acting". They think the Kiwanis club in Kingston (I love alliteration, it makes me sound so poetic) brings people into Port Gamble to reenact a murder from the "old days" of the town.

You can come to town on March 27th (Saturday), around 2pm and for $15 you can get a ticket which will give you permission to interview folks around town that MIGHT have been involved in the murder at Andrew Pope's house, or maybe that's a red herring and the murder happened elsewhere. Or maybe it never happened at all. (Know what a "red herring" is? No? Then Google it. You need the exercise.)

The $15 will also get you something to drink (wine, pop, etc.) when you return to the Post Office building around 6pm to make your accusation. They will give you a little more information at the 6 pm meeting, but not enough that you can solve it without having done your homework the rest of the day. If you do solve it they promise to give you a prize, but the only prize I would like is a promise that no ghosts would visit me. (I shouldn't joke about ghosts. There are a lot of people here that take them VERY seriously, as I will explain in the future.) Your chances of winning a prize are good, since EVERYONE who gets it right wins a prize.)

It sounds like fun to me, but it makes me wonder if this is about a REAL murder, and if so, is the victim one of the ghosts here. What's worse, who are these "Zombies" that are showing up here the next night? Lyn (who used to live in the house that we plan to stay in for 10 years, although I'm now having my doubts) says that there is a red stain on our back door from one of the Zombies. Rats. I thought someone had just spilled some paint.

I could have gone all day without hearing about blood on my back porch.

Spring in a small town

Spring is obviously a beautiful time for everyone, the temperature is warming up, the flowers are out, the grass is growing, things are are coming back to life from the drudgery of winter. Who could possibly not like spring? How about the crew that cuts the grass, the folks that plant the flowers, that pressure wash the place, all those people in a small town that try to make theirs look better than others? They must hate to come to work knowing the "relaxation" of winter is over.

I know this is going to sound like I'm with the Chamber of Commerce (which I'm not, in fact I don't think Port Gamble has one), but the employees of this "company town" must be pulling the wool over my eyes, because it always looks like they are overjoyed to be here. The boss commutes 45 minutes each way to work and he says he enjoys it, some live here, but everyone has a smile, but no time to talk.

They've been incredibly quick on reconstructing the old Stables building to make it into a quilt store, in fact they are a month ahead of schedule. And now they are mowing, pressure washing, weeding, too, but still ahead of schedule.

Yesterday I tried to talk one of the leaders into a break in the afternoon to have a piece of apple pie with some of us commercial renters to let her know how much we appreciate her and her staff, but she wouldn't have anything to do with it. She sent me a note apologizing, but she was on the phone all afternoon and didn't have time for a break. Is that dedication or what?

Another element that amazes me is how much is done by how few. I have identified, I think, four people in the mainenance crew. They keep up every building (EVERY building. This is a company town and the company owns EVERY building. They mow every blade of grass (I sold my lawn mower when I moved here). The only thing they don't take care of is weeding around flowers the residents put in themselves.

I think a person can go through a neighborhood, any neighborhood in the world, and look and see the amount of dedication people have toward where they live, or where they work, by looking at their surroundings. Are the buildings kept clean? Does the grass look green and watered, are the sidewalks safe?

The next time you drive by Port Gamble, or come here for an event once they get started, (don't worry, I'll tell you all about the events, once they get started) you will see a town where the employees who take care of it and the people who live here have as much pride in a town as you could ask for. I know I'm repeating myself, but I think that's unique to a small town. Or perhaps it's unique to Port Gamble.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

"Small world, isn't it?"

"Everyone is connected to everyone else in the world by (fill in the number 5, 6, 7, ?) people." You know the routine. My brother (1) in Saudi Arabia knows a tour guide (2) who gave a tour that included a woman (3) whose daughter (4) was caretaker for a man (5) who once worked for Ronald Reagan (6).

Sometimes you feel like everyone is that far removed. I've been walking the streets (excuse me, it's a small town. That should read "street") now for a couple of weeks, and I long ago gave up the idea that I would see anybody I knew in my previous life in Port Angeles. I'm getting to know the people who live here, trying to remember their names, and enjoying the new personalities that come with the new faces.

The last time I settled in a new town was after graduation from grad school, although it was in the same town I had been raised in, but I had been gone for eight years, so there too I quickly gave up looking for anyone I knew, hoping to find new friends to replace them.

One of the ways I found to meet new friends was to help start a children's theater group (adults acting for kids) which I had done in college, and in Port Angeles I directed the first play (Alice in Wonderland). We had a thrilling time. Casting was our most fun part, especially after we found the perfect Alice (she must have been 18, but looked and sounded like 10. A perfect voice that carried well but sounded like a child) and the perfect Queen of Hearts ("Off with her head!!!" she would shout and we all felt the hairs on our neck raise) who was, by coincidence, in real life Alice's mother. She also was an outstanding artist, and I had to fight off the crowd and claim my rights as director to be able to keep this painting that was used in the play.

Those people welcomed me into their circle like a rising river welcomes a sand bar.

But now we jump 35 years to 2010, where once again I don't know ANYONE. Remember Sean who I mentioned in an earlier blog is going to marry Wendy, the Sean that was so helpful in giving me the "who's who" in the community, the Sean that is part owner in the Gamble Bay Coffee Co.?" I was going to e-mail him to help him find this blog when I noticed his last name was part of his address. And I noticed his last name was the same as "Alice" and "The Queen of Hearts". I asked him if he had any relatives in Port Angeles and he said his mother used to live there and he had lived there as a kid. I suddenly realized he was part of that family. His mother was the Queen of Hearts, his sister was Alice, and HE had been the pest on stage for every rehersal and nearly every performance.

I guess those of us uncomfortable with life in the big city tend to congregate together in these small towns, which is one of the reasons I was given as an explanation for why this happens so often. Perhaps it's because (and I think this is true) people living in the masses find it more difficult to get involved in the community, they are more fearful of the "outside" (meaning outside their own home) and thus they tend to meet fewer people. I don't know. But I wonder what Sean and I would have guessed the number of people that separated us would have been. I certainly would have never guessed "1".

Yesterday I also noticed upstairs in the Post Office building there is a perfect stage facing a perfect auditorium, where a perfect redition of Alice in Wonderland could be performed. Perhaps this fall (certainly not this summer) I might suggest we form a children's theater group to light up the eyes of some kids from the area. Perhaps that will give me a way of meeting more people. Perhaps we could broaden everyone's "fun" quota. That's how it's done in this small town. And I love it.

Monday, March 15, 2010

In my first writing on this blog I said, "The thrill of seeing a business through to its opening day, no matter how big or small the business, still provides the owner a "rush" that is greater than a narcotic." This is especially true for a small town. EVERYONE'S eyes are on you and your building, at no time more than just before you open. (Once you are open the eyes go looking elsewhere and then you are down to the matter of running your business, much less colorful than starting it.

I hope that opening Quilted Strait (Kris' business which she is moving from Port Angeles) is done at least half as successfully as Eric and Kim's re-opening of The General Store. I say "re-opening" because they are not the first owners of a business in that location using that name. A week before they opened I walked by and talked with Eric, who I had just met, about such mundane issues as "What do you do with the cardboard to be recycled?"

Have you ever thought about that? We live in a society of double packages, wrapping a good in plastic, then re-wrapping everything in cardboard for shipping. So the plastic goes in the trash at home, but what about all that cardboard. Eric said he took three TRUCKLOADS of it to the recycling center, but it was tiresome, costly, and frankly was cheaper to just throw it in the trash dumpster (which he was not going to do).

But a town like Port Gamble is unlike most in that there is no "alley" where one can hide the ugly dumpsters, no place to keep them "out of sight, out of mind." There is the waterfront, where no one dares to tread (except during festivals when that is the ONLY place to park). So the solution from Tom, the head of maintenance, is to hide the dumpsters close to the water and ask the store owners to walk their cardboard to them. Sound like extra work? You bet. Something to complain about? Not here. Many of the shop owners, like Kris and I, also live in the same block and we don't want dumpsters in our yards any more than you do.

So next time you are in Port Gamble look and see how many dumpsters are in sight. Yet another advantage I've found in the way small towns solve problems. Cooperation. This town is dealing with employees cars, trash containers, yard debris (I started to prune a tree here and the clippings quickly disappeared) like you can't do in a big city ... by asking everyone to pitch in. It works here.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Spring is here.

Spring came early this year, as everyone in the northwest knows. We are talking spring in January. And what happens in spring in Port Gamble? "Spring is warm up to summer" I've been told. True everywhere? Not like here. Summer is FULL of events, FULL of people. This town of maybe 75 people (that includes cousins staying over night) will be host to five thousand for a Civil War Re-enactment in June (I wonder who wins THIS time) It's on Father's Day, $7 will get you in. I live here so I won't have to pay, so I think I'll bet my $7 on the south. And nearly that many for a Renaisance Fair a few weeks earlier. All summer long this town will be crawling wih tourists here for events each weekend, events like car shows, foot races, dog agility competitions, music festivals, red hat days, etc . (To see a bigger list of the events planned, go to and click on "events." Believe me, there really is "something for everyone.")

And do the locals plan to get rich off hordes of visitors? I have yet to hear anyone say they are living in the smallest of small towns for the money, but rather for the challenge of serving so many, for the excitement of activity, for the fun of being a participant rather than leader. "I'm here for the stories I'm going to tell my grandchildren," I overheard one waitress tell the visitors at her table. After seeing the tips she got from some VERY satisfied eaters, that surprises me.

But let me tell you one of those stories. When Kris and I moved here we had our choice of three homes to rent. (ALL homes are for rent. Pope Resources, the owner of the property here OWNS everything, except the people, of course), every building, every street, even the sewer and water departments are owned by Pope. The only reasonable home was right on the 15 mph corner, the busiest spot in town, the last house in "commercial row" and the first house in "residential row." Quite a change for someone who lived on 10 acres of tranquility before coming here.
Anyway, not having listened to a realistic voice which had told me "Lock your door, even when you are home," I had been reading a paper when I heard footsteps on my front porch. I was waiting for a knock when three elderly (I have to watch how I describe their age, given my own) people walked in unannounced. "Where's your rest room?" the only female of the three asked. Assuming some kind of emergency, I pointed to the closest and she headed for it.

She left behind two gentlemen of similar age to herself who looked around the room and discussed ... who knows what, maybe me ... in unusually hushed tones ... until the lady returned. She was clearly in control. "What did you find?" she asked one. "Anything here of interst?" she asked the other. The volume of her speech was matched only by the silence of theirs.

After a confused look around she barked "What do you sell here?" as if to say "What a lousy job of marketing." Now I admit I'm not yet "small town" oriented, at least not this small a town. I've been told my response was a little rude. (And her entrance without knocking was not?) But my response was simply "Nothing. This is a private residence."

I apologize, Madam, whoever you are, for the embarrassment I caused you, but it has been a long time since I have had such a chuckle from someone else's misfortune. The bright red washed over their faces like a summer sunset and I'm not sure but I think they may have left without first opening the door. But the waitress is right. I'm here for the stories to tell my grandchildren, and that will be the first.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

I will never understand "blogs"

I might have mentioned some of the people in small towns are "quirky", but what can be quirkier than a book that starts on the last page. See what you are reading? It's part 2. Part 1 is down below this. Strange.

I was told before I moved here (by someone who didn't know) that small towns can fulfill the needs of small fish who want to be big fish in a small pond. In my two weeks here I haven't met any of those, only people who don't know if they are big shots or small shots, they just enjoy living in a community where they can know who needs help, who needs to be comforted, who needs information, and who wants to hear a ghost story (more of that in another writing.) Let me tell you a little about some of them without telling you their last names. (Are you kidding? I don't even have permission to use their pictures, much less give you their names.)

Let's start with Sean and Wendy. Sean is part owner (with his sister Kris and a friend named Kat) in the Gable Coffee Company (sound like an overseas trader in exotic beverages? I won't tell you how many employees they have ... you can guess). My first day here I met Sean and no one has given me more information about who lives where, who moved which business for what reason, and which ghosts he's met in which house he has lived in (he's even lived in the house I live in). Ghosts? YES. They are part of life here, as we will get to see in the future.

Sean and Wendy got engaged last weekend. I barely know Sean and I don't know Wendy at all, but you can tell by the way they talk to each other that they both know this is "the one." You don't get that kind of non-verbal communication in the big city.

Another of my "first meets" is Mike, who with his wife Stephani owns Mike's Four Star BBQ, graduating from the farmer's market circuit to a building which years ago served as an auto repair shop for Port Gamble.

One can easily see that taking the step to a "legitimate" business was a tough one for Mike, running the risk of loosing it all, yet being sure enough of himself, his wife, and his own abilities that he could make it. And they will. They have the "work ethic" that sees them there seven days a week, (they are open five) and the customer relations which had them accept a sign from me (see the photo) for their display of automotive oddities even though it doesn't quite fit. But they certainly know how to keep a customer happy. And as you should be beginning to notice, that attitude is common here. "Schmoozing" is not just a duty, it's what these people do because they love their customers, love their work, and love the people in this little town. Kris and I had dinner at Mike's tonight and he mentioned he's tired. "But it's a good tired," he said. Do you suppose someone coming out of a Seattle office building at 3:30, facing a 1 1/2 hour commute would have any idea what a "good tired" is? I hope so, but I doubt it.

(Mike's BBQ's website is at )

Next week, a few more people and "getting close to spring".

We begin in Port Gamble

Almost everyone who lives in Western Washington knows where Port Gamble is (just a mile north of the Hood Canal Bridge), and everyone who has gone through it learns to hate the 15 mph corner it represents, and a few even know someone who lives there. But now there's a blog (and this is it) about life in this "quaint", "spooky", "unusual", "quiet" (take your pick of words... there's a lot more) town that is nothing like any town I've ever seen.

Port Gamble defines the words "small town". There can't be more than 20 commercial buildings or more than forty residences, but the people here remind me of snowflakes (no two are alike), the buildings here remind me of my youth (when our family raced from ferry to ferry through this burg), and the staff remind me of the staff in the last business I owned (hard working, but everyone quirky enough to make the job not just enjoyable, but downright fun.)

I can see, after living here for a grand total of two weeks, that some one needs to let the world know that towns like this still exist, that the thrill of seeing a business through to its opening day, no matter how big or small the business, still provides the owner a "rush" that is greater than a narcotic.

But as you can tell if you are still reading this, I am not the master of verbage needed for this chore, but I think I take a respectable photo now and then and hope that on the basis of what they say about pictures and words, that I might save you a lot of time reading.

So here goes my first venture into "blogdom", which will quit when I get tired of this town. Kris and I figure we are good for 10 years here, so we will see how long I last.
(Port Gamble has its own website at )