Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Delicious Slice of Small-Town Life

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Delicious Slice of Small-Town Life

Article excerpt

In the Oregon town where I spent my childhood, the population sign said 150. Sometimes people moved away, intimidated by the harsh winters, and it said 140. Once a population boom made it 155. On this rare occasion, the summer vacationers growled that the town was getting too crowded, the local workers felt thrilled at the prospect of boosting the local economy, and my aunt, who had lived there for years, simply felt astonished. "People are really moving in all over the place," she said.

My aunt owned One-Eyed Charlie's, one of the two competing restaurants in our town. This brick building had been built in the 1800s, the Gold Rush days when excited miners made Sumpter a boomtown.

Our rivals had optimistically named their restaurant the Gold Nugget, and its pinewood front displayed a picture of a miner in a floppy hat, panning for gold. The Gold Nugget had friendly, chatty owners, and large windows with a view of blue, snow-capped mountains. Whenever we went there, I tingled with excitement at the prospect of experiencing some variety, of sampling the friendly ambiance of the "other restaurant." But I guiltily wondered if I was being disloyal. Half the town consisted of our family members. My mom worked for my aunt in the restaurant, and Grandma made the pies: huckleberry pies (with berries she picked fresh from the Oregon hills), pecan, lemon, and rhubarb pies. Grandma baked loads of pies in her kitchen and delivered them to the restaurant the same day, hot and oozing juice. Nearly everyone in the family worked to make One-Eyed Charlie's a success. Grandma recruited me to pick huckleberries. After the early summer rains, my sister, Amanda, and Mom and Dad and I filled white buckets with morel mushrooms from among the deep, soft pine needles on the forest floor, and sold them to One-Eyed Charlie's. We used caution as we stalked the wrinkled mushrooms among the trees; morels brought a premium price, and the town's inhabitants feuded over them. IN the winter, when few tourists braved the snowdrifts, One-Eyed Charlie's was filled with familiar faces: loggers (including the huge muscular one called Tiny); my bearded uncles, adventurous aunts, and my friends, tousled children with loud, protective mothers. Ranchers came in with frozen mustaches from the morning fields where they had fed the cattle, and farmers stamped snow off their boots. As a child, I enjoyed seeing little Elmer, the farmer who lived next door to the restaurant, because I thought he was Elmer Fudd. When he arrived with his equally little wife, the people already sitting around the warm fire called out, "Here's trouble! And here's more trouble!" Every time the brass bell rang on the opening door, the crowd inside called out a hearty welcome. "Hello, Tiny! …

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