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Home and Christmas is what we call it


December 26, 2013
"Hi, I'm Zach. How are you doing?" In any place like Valley Center, that's the ritual of greeting. Us rural Americans don't mind taking moments to be aggressively friendly with a passerby, more fodder for later conversation.

During the holiday season, I confess that I rather enjoy my hometown at its best. There are lots of people enjoying brief encounters after years apart: high school friends, former colleagues and the people at the post office. If anyone truly had the goods on me, it would have to be those quiet foundations of local society who first saw me mail a letter, in 1990. Plus, there is Christmas, quite the combination.

It all starts with those two short sentences.

A recent drive down Lilac Road with an extension to Valley Center Road, elicited some poignant emotions: The simple sturdiness of Station 72 with the engine parked outside, then the quaint high school with a parking lot capable of accommodating the cars of all the cool kids who drive to school and of course, the trees. These are images foreign to city slickers more accustomed to brick buildings and transportation passes.

Perhaps many readers could sympathize with quiet pride becoming of having a rural, census-designated, place to call home. In my case however, certain elements of the situation are unique.

I have only been to Valley Center three times. No worries though because I am a rural Californian, but in Trinity County (go east 100 miles from the ocean and 100 miles south of Oregon). Despite this geographical difference in long-term residencies, my work at the Roadrunner provides me with interesting platform from which to observe the wonderful, ongoing saga of Valley Center.

As a journalist, I've enjoyed observing the currents driving both areas of the state. There are the fears of suburbanization, the implications of limited water supplies and a mutual amusement at the certain absurdities of local politics.

There are also the interesting figures who do important work. In places such as here, school superintendents, board supervisors, but not so much the local congressperson, loom large. The fact that people go to public meetings shows that at the grassroots level, participatory democracy can really work in practice.

The way in which an outpouring of grief and salutes spread following the tragic death of the Ackermanns inspired a fitting farewell to the virtues of public service. All of the small stories people told of them as neighbors, teachers, and strollers, told a bigger story about them and the community as a whole.

It's a good town and I've enjoyed the company of some diverse characters here. Many have reflected the notion that once somebody has enough money, they really should buy a house, tend to some outdoor works and raise some form of livestock. I had a teacher once who loved miniature donkeys so much that he eventually had 42 of those pint-sized jack asses doing their thing at his place. He and his wife later planted grapes, producing Hee Haw Syrah. That's the way to do it.

The mule people are a breed of their own. Always buy poppies from the VFW and hicks and rednecks are quite different.

With Santa having come already by truck or helicopter, the true value of Christmas emerges. It is the one day that if you aren't with your family, you are missing out. Thanksgiving is important — but it's Christmas.

I, as well as you all, will likely see people you haven't seen in years. Nowadays there are iPhones and Facebook, so the likelihood that you actually will follow up with further contact is 75 percent higher. That number isn't exact to say the least, but it conveys my point.

Family members congregate, observing the growth of the young and experience of the old. Every dinner table has its own rituals unique to individual clans, but everyone says thanks they're all together for once

Thankfully, we all got through another year enjoying life as best we can. The inauguration of the new year will quickly come and I can always be optimistic in a place where there are trees and horses, the ocean not that far away and a new friend walking towards me outside the one convenience store within five minutes.

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