The traveling bookstore set up at the Lincoln County Fair over the weekend. Three days of 4H kids with their animals. Jars of jams, crusty breads and plates of fudge being sampled and awarded ribbons, a booth raffling a rifle, another raffling a painting. There was live music and delicious pies, the most beautiful flowers people grew to enter as well as prize vegetables. A county fair in a county whose population is around 20,000. Enough entries in Foods, Crafts and Arts to enjoy wandering through but not overwhelming crowds. A pleasure to talk with neighbors, hang with kids, visit with other vendors and, of course, sell books.
Lots of conversations over the three days about politics, about how to engage with people whose conclusions are fundamentally different from mine, about what makes a good community, about various books. The one that still rumbles in my mind is about community. Community is so closely tied to home that it is necessary to make sense of it. At least for me.
When I am on the road with the bookstore, city people often ask what it is like to live in a small town. I point out the things I like. I know my neighbors, I trust my mechanic, I can leave my front door unlocked. When there is a need I feel strongly about, it might be possible to do something about it. Twenty years ago a group of us formed an organization to bring in an annual professional concert series. It has continued and even grown. This winter there will be jazz musicians from Seattle, Ghanaian performers, a classical quintet, a blues band from Vancouver, BC, and a Irish/Scottish duo from Oregon. Living in a small town forces me to talk with a variety of people, not only those who think the same way I do. Our local book club has women all across the political spectrum and from numerous religions with a few atheists mixed in as well.
I know that some local businesses I use are owned by people who don’t agree with my politics. And I don’t agree with theirs. But I shop in their store and they buy books from me. It is a necessity because otherwise we would each need to drive seventy miles one way to go to a bigger town. A bit too far to pick up a James Lee Burke novel or get a can of spray paint. So we find ways to get along, some activities mutually enjoyed liked listening to good music, going to the local microbrewery. And sometimes we have to face our differences and try to have a civil discussion. It doesn’t always work, but sometimes.
But do we have consensus as to what makes a good community? There are diverse opinions about local schools. Some of us want better academics, others are interested in a trophy winning football team. Should the elementary library carry books with Muslim characters? Outside of school, where should the jobs be? Open up the forests for more logging or train people for jobs that require other skills? I try to understand my role as a small business owner in this town, finding ways to improve the quality of life. But whose life? The county fair gave me three days to glimpse the heart of this community.