About Craig and Caring

coal keeps lightsProblems abound in my small town. On every block, small black-and-white signs promoting coal reflect our threatened economy. Houses stand empty; for-sale and for-rent signs decorate neighborhoods. Our schools lose students, and teacher turnover is high. Too many families exist on incomes below the poverty level; too many children go to school with unattended medical and dental issues.

Even the sidewalks have given up.

But it’s my town.

A banner from Trapper Coal Mine and a woodcarving of a miner from Craig’s annual Whittle the Wood contest stand outside our courthouse.

After Joel and I retired, we were asked, “When will you be moving?”

Not whether we’d be leaving, but when.

We’ll be staying.

Last summer, I was encouraged when I read the words of a young resident who volunteers for a local non-profit that works with at-risk teens: “I feel I should give back to my community,” she told a newspaper reporter, “It’s been good for me, and I want it to be good for others.”

My husband has long acted on his belief that if you enjoy living where you do — whether its a farming or ranching area with far-flung neighbors, a small town, a suburb, a row house in a large city — you should help care for it so it continues to be a place you choose to call home. When we married, watching Joel work to improve our community, I adopted his belief.

Fortunately, most residents share our conviction. They provide transportation to medical appointments for those who can’t drive themselves, buy band instruments for students who can’t afford them, and cook free lunches and dinners twice a week for anybody who shows up. They created and continue to maintain a colorful garden that welcomes visitors to town. They clean up the Yampa River, staff the Food Bank, assist victims of abuse, and maintain mountain trails.

In addition, they open their wallets to help neighbors in need and keep non-profits afloat, giving to United Way so generously that Craig’s donations are in the top 10% per capita in the nation.

These folks neither ignore Craig’s problems nor move away from them. They serve our town because they see the same positive things about life here that I do: light traffic, an easy-going pace, the grandeur of the mountains and the respite they provide when we go to them, the unrestricted river that rambles by, the parks well used and maintained on a modest budget, business owners who greet customers by name, drivers who wave, neighbors who chat. And an ice cream truck that roams our summer streets playing Jingle Bells.

In the aftermath of Christmas and on this New Year’s Day, let’s resolve to list the gifts we could give our communities during the coming year — and check it twice.

The Truth in My Mirror

I long ago accepted my senior-citizen status, but seeing myself daily, I didn’t notice the gradual changes in my appearance: wrinkles becoming crevices and gray hairs multiplying faster than dead grass in an autumn lawn. Then, last summer while brushing my teeth on a sparkling morning, I unexpectedly glimpsed myself in the mirror.photo 4

Until that startling moment, made worse by the toothpaste dripping from my agog mouth, I considered myself unchanged and wondered at the rapid aging I noticed in others.

I remember watching with dismay at my last class reunion as my once young and beautiful classmates socialized: favoring their bad knees and their good ears, wearing their nametags upside-down in case they forgot their own names.

“Why does no one recognize me?” I thought, “I haven’t changed a bit.”

Inside, I still feel forty-four and vigorous with unlimited possibilities; but, increasingly, I acknowledge the truth in my mirror; and, if I should forget, my grandchildren remind me.

When Sophia was four, I introduced her to a game I used to play with young students: “Let’s play the antonym game, Soph. It works like this. If I say up you say the opposite, down. So, if I say hot you would say…”

“Cold,” she responded, and the game began. We paired big and little, inside and outside, happy and sad.

Eventually, I stumped her with pretty. She frowned in concentration. Then, “Oh, I know” she chirped, studying my face, “The opposite of pretty is old.”

My laugh was tinged with rue.

A few years after that her brother, a teenager, threw his arm around me after telling me a funny anecdote and said, “Hey, you should laugh all the time. It makes you look younger because the lines in your lips go away.”

With grandchildren around, who needs a mirror?

Still, even with the honesty of my young ones to remind me, I sometimes do a double take when I’m given the senior discount at the movies without asking or when a librarian glances at me and says I’ve reached the age where I can check out the new books for a month, rather than a week.

The rule-makers of the library system must think I’ve lost the ability to read quickly as I’ve aged.

Well, maybe I have; it does take me longer to finish a book — I tend to doze off.

As we all must, I am coming to grips with the realities of aging: its physical changes and mental rewards, its upsetting challenges and quite pleasures. And, increasingly, I no longer see myself in the mirror with eyes tricked by memory, but with a spirit learning acceptance.