Bicycling around Camp Sherman today, it hit me: my inner child wants to return to the days when people bought gas at the town store from pumps with a shell/Shell on top, and when going to the post office meant you’d catch up on the town gossip and get a chance to sit a spell on the bench outside.
This was the sort of town I grew up in, Three Rivers, California. Just a few hundred people back in the mid-1950s to mid-1960s. A tourist/ranching town with, yes, three forks of the Kaweah River. My mother and I lived within earshot of the Middle Fork, so I listened to the roar of the rapids every summer night when I went to sleep with the window open—just like Laurel and I do now when we come to Camp Sherman, with the Metolius River rustling along just a few hundred feet away.
Anyone who grows up in a small town never leaves that place. Well, I’m sure the same is true for those who grow up in big cities. But there is something about a small town like Camp Sherman or Three Rivers that grabs you in a way that New York or Chicago can’t. Intimacy. Familiarity. Human scale. Naturalness.
My grandmother always enjoyed talking art with the garbageman when she visited Three Rivers. He was an artist, as she was, and collected the town garbage to make extra money. He’d pull up in his truck, my grandmother would go out on the porch, and they’d chat about this and that. No rush. No supervisor waiting to dock his pay if he was late. Small town time. Different from big city time.
For the locals, everybody knows your name when you go into the Camp Sherman store. We’re just quasi-local, but we feel at home there too. One day, I hope, we’ll just have to say “the usual” when we stop in for our end-of-biking lattes. The post office serves as the Camp Sherman library. People, us included, bring in books and magazines and leave them on shelves and a table in the lobby. No check-out system. Just trust. Take what you want. Bring it back when you want.
My mother was the postmistress for one of the smallest post offices in the United States, the walk-in closet sized Kaweah post office up the North Fork. The Camp Sherman post office is giant by comparison. When I was ten I used to ride my bike to see her at work. Today, at fifty-five, I rode my bike to another little country post office. My mother wasn’t there. Also, she was.