Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Bye bye, Warm Springs


JoEllen Collins

The recent closing of Warm Springs Ranch Restaurant is a loss. Because I have a special personal contact with the restaurant, I have felt its absence acutely. My history in this valley has been entwined with that lovely place: It even offered a safe haven for me when a stalker confronted me in the parking lot there, and I went in anyway, to the arms of Mike Simpson and Bob Dunn, who protected me and got rid of the rather deranged man. Bob is now my son-in-law, so I especially feel the restaurant's absence. I know people who were married there and who even met their significant others under its roof.

So I bid farewell to this local landmark with sadness. Others have commented on the locale's future, most often with foreboding. We have discussed the sometimes-cruel ways in which our hometown is changing—the "bankification" of Main Street, an altered skyline and the big money concerns of what we have always treasured as a small town. I, too, am afraid it will never be the same, but then nothing is.

In the past few weeks I have witnessed farewells to teachers and administrators of The Community School, where I used to work, and, by the time you read this, will have seen the latest class of seniors graduate and prepare to move on to other pursuits. Always these partings are difficult. We can mouth platitudes about never forgetting one another, about things never again being as wonderful, or about the unique qualities of the person or place we are commemorating. While in most cases these rituals of parting are helpful, it is still hard to say goodbye. Inevitably I take lots of tissues with me to these events because I have a sentimental streak, well documented in previous columns.

Nonetheless, I have lived long enough to understand that change is not only inevitable but almost always positive: We have memories of places and people we have loved that can never be erased, but we must also welcome what is new and vibrant and often better. One of the former servers at Warm Springs said she had been so used to her job there that it had been hard for her to pursue other things; now she would have to. Sometimes we have to be pushed out of the familiar in order to actively seek new paths.

When I left my job over a year ago, my more immature side harbored a fantasy that I could never be replaced. Of course, I was, and my successor has proven to be a valuable and wonderful person for the position. I feel absolutely fine about that. I am myself, and she is herself, and we both offer unique qualities in our employment. I am glad that a warm and caring person greets children each day, even if I'm not the one.

Unrealistically, I would like to think that my spot in this world is also not "refillable." Of course, trains will still run and people will still sleep well at night without my presence. All I can hope is that, as my mother taught me, I may possibly leave the world a little better for my having been here. In these words, Emily Dickinson expressed the bittersweet sense that life is going on all around us when we most feel it has stopped: "Tis sweet to know that stocks will stand when we with daisies lie—that commerce will continue and trades as briskly fly."

In another short poem, Dickinson posits the benefits of a positive acceptance of loss. Saying goodbye may even offer heightened perception. She says:

By a departing light

We see acuter, quite.

Than by a wick that stays.

There's something in the flight

That clarifies the sight

And decks the rays.

So, yes, I will miss the cozy ambiance of Warm Springs Ranch Restaurant. I am commemorating the place in a piece of stitchery I have created, and I will eventually offer copies to the public. Even if no one buys them, I feel that in my own way I am capturing the essence of the spirit of that place—my way of grieving—to do something to honor what I have lost. But I also harbor a little dream: Someday I will be sitting at the new Warm Springs Ranch Restaurant with many of my same friends and enjoying still-delicious food. All will then seem right with my town, I think. I hope.

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