My parents were high school sweethearts raised in a small town in Eastern Colorado wheat country. She was the class president and he was the class clown/naughty boy and together they cut quite a rug for 20 years or so.
Both had big dreams and not such a fondness for small town life, so they left their hometown right after they married and never went back, except to visit their parents – my grandparents – after I was born a couple of years later.
I have such fond memories of those visits. I was the first grandchild for both families and they spoiled me rotten.
My mom’s parents were wheat farmers who lived out in the country. My dad’s dad was a dentist with an office right downtown and my dad’s mother was a stay at home mom.
I used to spend a lot of time in my grandpa’s dental office. He’d let me go through his drawers of gold and silver for fillings and crowns and spin his old dental chair around and around. He’d let me put on one of his dental aprons and pretend to fix his teeth, using a tray of his real tools. And he’d take me around, buying me treats and showing me off to his buddies who owned the other downtown businesses.
There was a jeweler and a department store, a sandwich shop, an ice cream parlor and a five-and-dime. There was a shoe store with a shoe repairman in the back. I always liked the way that shoe store smelled – like leather and saddle wax and, faintly, of the bubble gum the shoe man always gave me when I visited his store with my granddad.
I remember the fondness with which these men greeted each other and the clear bond of owning businesses downtown they seemed to feel. I remember how they always knew their customers’ names and how jovial and excited they seemed whenever a customer came in. It seemed like a nice community – safe, kind, caring – yet business-like. There was no more chatting or joking around once a customer asked a question, or wanted to make a purchase.
In many ways, my memories of that small town downtown are similar to the stories I’ve heard about the way downtown Winder used to be. How I’d like to step back in time and visit that downtown, just for a day.
It was a bustling place with pretty much everything anybody needed, right there within a few blocks of Broad Street. There was the a hotel and a movie theater, a restaurant or two, a grocery store, a jewelry store, a department store, and a general merchandise store that sold a little bit of everything, from boat parts to tires to furniture and house wares. There was a bank and a post office and plenty of foot traffic. Winder was a (manufacturing) plant town back in the day the workers did their shopping at lunch-time and on Wednesday afternoons when the plants closed down.
Some of the owners of some of those businesses are still downtown, greeting customers and working long days, they way they have for years and years — Larry Evans, Larry Jones, G.W. Steed, some of the folks at The Peoples Bank. Imagine the changes they’ve seen.
It makes me sad that downtown Winder is struggling – struggling the way all small town downtowns struggle when the winds of change blow through. My grandpa’s downtown is almost gone now; most of the businesses have either gone out, or relocated up by the “new” interstate. My grandpa’s dental office has been boarded up for years; no one wants to invest in such a rattle-trap place.
Until we moved to Winder, I’d always lived in big towns. An odd set of circumstances landed us here some 21-years-ago and while it’s been an adjustment, I have no regrets. I like it that my kids got to grow up in a small town. I like it that they grew up with people they still call close friends. I like it that my daughter and a surprising number of my kids’ friends ended up marrying their high school sweetheart, just like my parents did. And even though many of these children, now adults don’t live in Winder anymore, they always come back for holidays. It’s good to see them and to know that their roots run so deep.
Downtown Winder may be in a time of transition, but that doesn’t mean it can’t change into something kids will still have good memories about.
Lorin Sinn-Clark is a writer for the Barrow Journal. She can be reached at email@example.com
Me nombre es anónimo
05/23/10 at 06:41 AM
Places like Winder are an unfortunate artifact of an unsustainable lifestyle built on cheap oil. It's only going to get worse for the suburbs, though Winder stands a chance of surviving due to its geographic placement.
Without the ready supply of oil for so many decades, Winder would still be a small railroad stop with a small, largely self-sustaining economy.
The only thing that can save small towns is for their inhabitants to recognize the changes, and manage them rather than hope they blow over. People are moving back to the cities, and taking their dollars with them.