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Another Day in the Country

Things are always changing

© Another Day in the Country

Twelve years ago, I left behind my California rural setting and moved to Kansas, leaving a very populated part of America for a very sparsely populated place.

Coming back to Ramona, the place I’d known in my growing-up years, I discovered it really hadn’t changed much. The same houses, the same streets (now with names), and pretty much the same people were in and around Ramona — quite a few of them my relatives.

My sister and I marveled at how little had changed in the town we remembered as kids.

Now, here I am back in California, exploring a place that for 30 of my adult years was home and finding out how much has changed in a decade of absence.

The first couple of weeks that I was back in the Napa Valley, I was the designated driver.

“Do you recognize this?” my daughter would ask. “Do you know where you are now?”

It took a while to remember the route into Napa: right on Trancas, left on Soscol — which now entered Trancas at a completely different spot.

“Hmmm, how did that happen?”

Where a field had been, there was now a huge hotel and a whole new street. This was just the beginning of the changes.

The little, used-to-be-sleepy town of St. Helena at the foot of my mountain increasingly supports a huge tourist industry.

On Friday, the beginning of the weekend traffic starts piling up and it is lock-step cars for miles funneling through town and on up the valley. One quickly learns all the short cuts in order to stay away from Main Street in St. Helena on weekends.

Sunday night, my family was running errands elsewhere, and I had access to an old, beat up truck belonging to Jana’s friend.

“It’s a hoopty,” Jana said.

Hoopty is their favorite name for a beater. My grandson loves that name for the truck and said it as often as he could.

“Baba,” he called as I headed out, “are you driving the hoopty?”

I was on my way to see a movie, assuring him that indeed I knew how to drive a hoopty stick shift and that the hoopty and I would be back about the same time they arrived home from their excursion.

Because I wasn’t sure of the traffic, the hoopty and I came into St. Helena the back way and parked a block away from the main drag.

Usually, you could cut across the street, walk through the alley by the hardware store and you’d be just a couple of blocks from the theater.

I started walking. Where was that alley? It wasn’t there. It had been filled in completely, seamlessly, like Harry Potter’s Platform 9¾, quite disorienting. It was now offices.

“Ah, well,” I mumbled, “I’ll just walk down the street to the grocery store, go in the back door and out the front, picking up a bottle of water on the way.”

Not! The grocery store was now a restaurant with no back door. I walked six extra blocks just to get to The Cameo.

The Cameo is the cutest little old-time theater. Two sisters bought it 20 years ago and completely refurbished it back to its earlier splendor with velvet curtains, cozy plush seats, and gorgeous wall sconces. It seats about the same amount as the Art Cinema in Salina (small) and appeals to a similar crowd.

I sat watching folks come in, searching for any familiar face. None! It wasn’t until the movie was over and we were all back on the street that I spied someone that I thought I knew.

Literally, I hadn’t seen this person in 40 years. What could he possibly be doing in St. Helena? It took me a minute to remember his name. A college professor — yes, he could be either teaching at the college near my home or maybe he’d just retired in the area.

It figured; but was it really him? I couldn’t get close enough to hear his voice or catch his name in conversation with his group of friends. Maybe I should call out randomly, “Hey, Loren!” and just see if he turned around.

I kept walking, trying to screw up my nerve to holler a name out into the air (and be wrong). I was extremely disappointed with myself that I couldn’t bring myself to do it. What had happened to my courage, my audacity, my spizzerinctum? Had I lost it in Ramona?

When the group I was shadowing turned into a restaurant, I kept walking.

Twenty years ago on this street, Jana and a friend started a women’s clothing store — a venture well beyond their years and their capital. They finally sold it. The economy turned down, and things kept changing hands.

What was it now? A gelato shop! The little shops at this end of Main all seemed to struggle for some reason and now they had turned into restaurants, teahouses and sweet shops. These seemed to thrive, where clothes hadn’t.

I walked inside this place we’d called Metropolis. How strange.

There was a wall full of mirrors with small tables and chairs in front where the cash register used to be.

The wall of dress racks, where we had to stretch out and space the hangers on the day the shop opened because a crucial shipment hadn’t arrived and we needed the store to look full, was now a huge freezer with tins of ice cream.

The fitting room became a kitchen.

How things change. I bought ice cream and sat out front watching strangers walk by. No one knew my story. I didn’t know theirs.

Back at the hoopty (truly a redneck vehicle with a smashed-in door, no hubcaps and rust spots galore), I headed up the hill toward home, contemplating change.

This place had changed. Kansas has changed since I first came to spend another day in the country. I’ve changed, these past few weeks. You might have even changed since I’ve been gone.

Last modified July 18, 2012

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