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For the week of January 24 through 30, 2001

The ties that bind - friendly neighbors

By JoEllen Collins

A few weeks ago in this column I said goodbye to one of the taller figures of recent Idaho history, Jack Hemingway.

Today, I intend to honor some lesser known people, the not so famous who make our lives fuller. I've often held that true courage is approaching each day with enough energy and enthusiasm to continue putting one foot in front of the other, even when life may be difficult. It is a real bonus, then, when the people we encounter on a daily basis uplift our spirits by their positive attitudes.

In 1981, when I first came to Idaho to ski, I rented my gear from Pete Lane's in Sun Valley. I was aghast when they didn't require ID and, after I decided I didn't want to ski for the full duration of the package, refunded the rental days I hadn't used. The exigencies of business in a resort town may make that kind of trust rare today, but the whole tone and spirit of friendliness profoundly affected me at the time and was one of the reasons I delighted in my eventual choice of this valley as a residence.

I still think we’re a pretty friendly town. In spite of occasional grumbling about parking and crowding and unwary winter drivers, most of us know the importance of a friendly attitude toward our tourists. What I like about living here is the sense of camaraderie we develop among our residents, a friendliness and lively communication with each other that makes this place unique.

One person who embodied this spirit was a man named Don Martin. If you are a moviegoer, you may notice his absence. Whenever I entered the lobby of the Ski Time Cinema, Don, the manager, would share a large smile and some enthusiasm for the picture I’d chosen. When I walked out at the end of the flick, he’d wait for my review and, if I liked it, give me a big grin. The warmth of his personality enhanced my movie-going experience; he loved movies and he loved his job. He died just before the New Year. I will miss that gregarious teddy bear of a man.

In that vein, let me hasten to say that Steve Bynum, at the Magic Lantern, has the same salubrious effect on his customers; his love of the cinema is contagious. I trust that he will continue to add zest to my quest for the magical experience of seeing a great movie.

I can’t begin to name the many friendly people who work in this town, and I won't try, but I think that we all know the good feeling of dealing, for example with a friendly post office worker. After I returned from a five-year absence, I walked into the town's post office and was greeted by Pat, who rattled off my former mailbox number. "Only in the Wood River Valley," I thought. Later, I saw a mug shot of cute little puppies on the wall of the P.O. and wound up getting a Jack Russell terrier from her.

Shortly thereafter, the bit of fluff named Oscar (because he was my own special Academy Award) was kidnapped from my car in Twin Falls. Pat and dozens of others in this town rallied to the task of finding him; he was on the Internet and in the hearts of many. Fortunately, I found him many days later and he is still with me, but the most important lesson I learned through that experience was about the concern of my townspeople and friends.

Like many locals, I enjoy walking through the neighborhood market and seeing people there every day who smile and acknowledge our acquaintance. God forbid I should have a bad hair day when I stock up on groceries! I must add that in all the years of shopping there, I have rarely had other than a positive encounter with a checker. Most of the time, we greet each other warmly, perhaps comment on the weather (that universal icebreaker) or our sniffles, or even exchange cooking hints.

To my happy surprise, our local office of the U.S. Forest Service proved a formidable ally for an unknown constituent. Last summer I noted the drinking-party destruction of one of my favorite campsites up Corral Creek. After I told the people at Ketchum's Forest Service office about it, I was pleasantly surprised to see that within a week the site had been cleaned and the vehicle access sealed off. Would such an alert have been noticed or corrected that quickly in a big-city office?

I’m sure there are times when small-town denizens feel claustrophobic or the object of too much attention. Many of us have experienced the unwelcome scrutiny of gossip or unwanted publicity when unpleasant things have happened.

On the other hand, anyone who has been through a personal tragedy in this valley knows the loving warmth of our community. I guess you can’t have one facet of small-town life without the other. I, for one, will accept the trade.

If the fabric of our lives is made stronger by the weave of our interactions, then we are indeed fortunate to be wrapped in the positive attitudes of those around us. I deeply appreciate the daily connections we experience and am thankful I live in this place.


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