My latest publication came out Sunday in the Medford Mail Tribune. It was an essay on the changes I’d seen in the town my mother grew up in, Jacksonville, Oregon. It was published in an occasional 2A column called, Southern Oregon Journal, which doesn’t get posted online apparently. The reaction to it was very positive, which was rather gratifying.
Memories of a Jacksonville gone by
My strongest memory of Jacksonville was seeing my Uncle Arch in his volunteer fire department uniform, jacket discarded, hat on backward, dancing with a hippy chick in a tube top to a band on the back of a flatbed playing “House of the Rising Sun” during Pioneer Days.
The Jacksonville of my youth was impossibly charming, featuring characters with names like “Red” and “Oakie.” To be young and on the loose in the summertime in Jacksonville was like being free to wander around Heaven, despite the fact our father was in Vietnam. In the years since, the town has changed a great deal, some for the better and some for the worst. The same could probably be said of me.
“You know, when we moved here,” said Aunt Darsy, talking about when my family came to Jacksonville in the Fifties, “this was where they sent the poor people, the welfare cases.” It was cheap and run-down, she said. It was out of the way and the houses were those awful old things, more than a few over a hundred years old. Who’d want them?
When I was growing up the most famous resident of Jacksonville, and no doubt among the richest, was professional bowler Marshall Holman. My brother Kevin, a lane rat to this day, was in awe. Now the town is full of refugees from Hollywood and corporate America. Bruce Campbell, famous for his roles in the Evil Dead series and the Hercules and Xena TV shows, has started a Jacksonville-based film production company.
When people move into a town that has its own distinctive identity, the new residents tend to fall into two camps. The first are those who value the place and what it provides so much that they exert an extra effort to give back to it. Then there are those who, having turned their own communities into combination amusement park-garbage dumps, move in and start the process again.
I would never have imagined when I was a youngster that I would actually do Christmas shopping on California Street. But I did. At one store, a personable purveyor of kitchen implements took time and joy in demonstrating a raft of doohickeys to the few of us who had wandered in. At a nearby café I stood in line for coffee and the new owner, not even making eye contact, waved a future former customer away from the bar to make room for others. Tourists visit Jacksonville in the summer. Then, it’s all about how well you serve the town. And dismissing them without even making eye contact may not work as well in Jacksonville as it did in Santa Clara.
Just the other day, my wife and I went to Jville to have breakfast at the Mustard Seed, a little erstwhile greasy spoon across from the museum that my grandparents used to own when it was called the Polar Bar. We were joined by a group of men in Jacksonville Fire Department outfits. Not volunteers. Professionals. When did this happen? I asked. The chief said only a year and a half ago. It was a “split department,” with a volunteer crew that helped out when necessary. I was a bit proud I have to say. Jacksonville deserved a real fire department, staffed by dedicated professionals. But none of them had heard of Uncle Arch. And none were likely to have one too many, throw off their jacket, turn their hat backward and dance with a hippy chick in a tube top to a band playing “House of the Rising Sun” from the back of a flat bed truck.