Posts Tagged ‘small towns’

Just a picture I took as we were leaving Mustang Sally’s

Denyce and I were sitting at an outside table at the world famous Mustang Sally’s in Deadwood South Dakota waiting for our food. The place was packed and we were at a table which could easily seat six. Denyce kept her eye on the street looking for people who had a dog and might be looking for a table. We were more than willing to share and we know people with dogs have no choice but to eat outside and it was quite busy.

There was an older couple sitting at the table next to us. I was a little surprised when the gentleman got up turned and walked towards us. He looked at Denyce and asked her if she believed in Magic and Illusion. Denyce said yes while trying not to laugh but just smile while not looking at me. Meanwhile I looked at him very carefully. Did I know him? Did he know me? Maybe we were being set up by another magician I did know. I know from Facebook we have sort of been following Trevor and Lorena Watters, (magicians from BC) around this end of the country, however no one was recognizable in the crowd. I certainly didn’t know the gentleman standing before us all prepped to perform the ole’ magical classic, ‘torn and restored napkin’ which he did very well.

After proper introductions and magic heritage explored Ron, aka ‘The Wizard of Wonder’ and his wife Martha joined us for lunch and a wonderful time was had. Ron is quite the comedian. What prompted Ron’s performance is he wanted to add “Performed at the famous Mustang Sally’s to his ‘resume’ Ron also performed for four former Presidents. Yes, he performed an illusion at Mt. Rushmore.

Naturally when I got home I looked up Mr. Ron on the internet and he certainly does not need to add much to his ‘resume’. Not only is he a professional magician, he is a Pastor, an educator, served in the military and has two Masters Degrees. In 1965 (the year I was born) he became a member of the International Brotherhood of Magicians, ‘IBM’ and he is the founder of an ‘IBM ring’ in his home town. Adding to this he is a member of the Society of American Magicians and a member of the very prestigious Magic Circle of London England.

Well done Ron and it was a pleasure meeting and sharing a meal with you at Mustang Sally’s in Deadwood SD.

Gunfight in Deadwood South Dakota

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Philipsburg, including Philipsburg North, South and a little place called Chester Hill boasts a combined population of 4,800 people. If we don’t want to make the run into State College for groceries our only practical option is Philipsburg. This was one of those Sundays, we even splurged and went to McDonalds for breakfast.

We ordered our scrumptious meal, my wife grabbed the drinks and found a seat while I waited for the rest of the food. It was a busy morning at McDonalds, the pimply kid asking if we want fries with that seemed overwhelmed and who could blame him? There had to be at least four other people in line. I got the food and headed over to the table my wife had found. There was a gentleman seated at the table next to us that I had never met before but I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was a magician. No he wasn’t holding a bunny or wearing a top hat. He wasn’t practicing a magic trick. To the untrained eye there were absolutely no outward signs that he was a magician. I just knew. Four thousand eight hundred people, the odds of one being a magician are little to none. Is there nowhere I can hide? My wife, of course, unknowing his magic habit had already struck up a conversation with him. My wife talks to all the strays.

As I took my seat my wife says, “Brian look at the cool case he has for his ipad, isn’t that neat?” To which I add, “Not only that, he is a magician!” The look he gave me was nothing short of comical, for a moment I thought he was going to choke on his meal.

In about two minutes the conversation turned to a magic pissing match. He started telling me about all the magicians he knows. About all the tricks he does and how he made improvements. These types of conversations never fail to amuse me. And I usually don’t engage. I nod, I smile, add a few words here and there. Why must it always be a competition? When plumbers meet do they compare tools? Brag about how fast they can remove a valve?

But I’m not writing to tell you about Philipsburg or magic pissing contests. No I’m here to tell you what happened when the Military showed up.

There we sat eating our McBreakfast happily discussing the merits of magnets vs invisible thread in the world of magic when all of the sudden from behind the counter we hear the staff yelling at each other, “We got a bus! We got a bus! Start prepping the food. Do we have enough hashbrowns!” I looked up and sure enough across the way a bus had pulled up the door opened and out stepped a soldier complete with clipboard and camo-fatigues followed by a whole lot of other people who looked exactly like him, and yes, they were heading our way. The shouts from behind the counter still ring in my ears, “Oh My God they are military, do we give them anything free? Do we have enough food?”

The restaurant quickly filled up I could no longer see the counter all I could see was a wall of men and all I could think about was that the camo-gear was a huge fail as I could see them all quite clearly. I heard one soldier at the end of line line quietly say, ‘guys, hold up a minute’ and with that they all took a step back in order to let two old ladies dressed in their Sunday finest to move to the front of the line. And that is what I’m writing about. Good manners, common decency and class.

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The air conditioner in our car doesn’t work.  That is the good news.  The bad news is we can’t get it fixed at the moment because the air conditioner in our house isn’t working and that takes priority.  We have central air so we know it is going to be costly and we were not disappointed.  The first time it broke down it cost us around three hundred dollars to get it up and running. This time we got a quote of twelve hundred dollars.  It has been a day or so since we got the quote and my heart is almost back to its regular rhythm.  After doing a little research we found that it is in our best interest to bite the bullet spend a little more money and get a new one, a better one because the one the contractor originally put in is pretty much the bottom of the barrel.  This time we are smarter.  My beautiful wife got on the phone and has managed to set up some appointments with different companies and contractors to come out take a look and get an estimate.

But the above paragraph is not what this post is about.  This post is about small town living.  You may be asking yourself, “What does all this have to do with life in a small town?”  I am so glad you asked. 

The company I work for is moving and we have been setting up the new warehouse.   My wife was picking me up from the new location and we were exploring the area and we saw a company that deals with air conditioners.  We found out that they are strictly wholesale, but the owner gave us the name of a contractor.  In further discussion with him we found out this was the contractor who installed the air and heat in our new building at work.  And I know our facilities supervisor really liked his work.  So my wife added him to the list of people to talk too.

This contractor shares the last name of Norma, a woman I used to work with.  While Norma’s last name is very common in these parts I jokingly said to my wife that maybe they are cousins and we could get a discount of some sort.  My wife called him up and really liked this contractor.  He is related to one of our neighbours who he recently did some work for and he just installed a unit for somebody who lives just down the street from us.   So my wife asked him about Norma.  Not only are they cousins, Norma’s daughter just married this guys best friend.   

There is nothing like living in a small town. And who knows, perhaps my next entry will be from an air conditioned house.

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Friends of ours were having a yard sale in Milsburg so we loaded up the car with junk and headed on out in hopes to further our progress in getting rid of some crap good quality items that we don’t have any further use for.  And then there are the books. My wife manages to read about 2 or 3 books a week, so we always have a stockpile of books looking for a home.

Milesburg is one of those quaint little towns where everybody knows everybody. the church is located next to the gun shop, the houses are old and beautiful, and the volunteer fire department is the focal point of the town.   The annual yard sale is a community event that has more to do with the neighbours getting together then it does about getting rid of items and making money.  The people were very nice and if I had to move into a town,  it would be a town like Milesburg.  And while it was a long day with more physical labour then I’d normally like on a Saturday, we did have fun hanging out with our friends, meeting new people. 

Even though people kept asking me questions like ‘how are youins doin?’ and hearing an abundance of expressions like, ‘gorsh darn it’ we did manage to unload a mess of books and other assorted stuffs. 

I couldn’t help but walk around the town and look at other peoples wares, I was, to say the least, perplexed.  I found, (but did not buy).  One roller skate, broken and dirty toys, puzzles with missing box tops so there was no way to know what the picture was, a checker board without checkers, two basketballs (the inflated one was 2 dollars, broken Christmas decorations, a dog kennel without a door, a cane with the head of a snake in which the eyes lit up, oh and hidden inside the cane was a sword.  What made the sword cane interesting was the woman who purchased it for her 12-year-old boy who was tagging along behind, he also got a set of throwing knives.  Of course mom had a rather large and I’m assuming prison tattoo down her forearm.

There was a blanket on the ground with a bunch of stuffed animals on it.  They were free, many people let their dogs go through the pile and select a toy, it was really cute seeing the pit bull running down the sidewalk with the stuffed flower in its mouth that it had chosen.  The really cute puppy rottweiler had a hard time choosing but eventually settled on the purple bear.  Then there were the kids. I was horrified as parents watched these dogs, rooting around drooling over the toys and then letting their little kids play in the pile of stuffed animals and choose whatever they wanted.  You all know I’m all about animals, but this was a little much.

Both my wife and I had trouble talking to the guy with the black stumps in his mouth that we can only imagine were once teeth.  He was very nice and like us, he was remodeling his bedroom so we had a lot in common and had plenty to talk about.  Of course I couldn’t look at him.  I still see those little rotted black stumps when I close my eyes. 

Then again, who am I to judge?  I kind of wanted the sword cane.

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Yes my wife and I eat at Denny’s.  I’d be the first, okay the second to tell you that the track record with Denny’s has not been great. My father would be the first.  However even my father likes the Denny’s in State College.  The food is good, the location is perfect for us and I even know some of the wait staff by name, which for me is an incredible feat.  There is Dana who is so good at her job and is such a fun person to be around, that she got my father to admit that there is hope for Denny’s and is now willing to eat there when he visits, of course we have to make sure that Dana would be taking care of us.   We have also gotten to know Mark quite well, in fact my wife is talking to him on Facebook as I write this blog. Even when not sitting in Mark’s section he makes sure we are taken care of properly.   Carrie always makes sure she comes by our table to say hello and enquire about us and the dog and is joy to talk too.  We don’t see Marvin (one of the managers) much anymore, but when we do he always stops by to say hello. There are others I like who I will apologize to now seeing as I can’t remember their names off-hand, such as the young woman who is usually at the cash and always laughs at my corny jokes. 

The other night as a couple sat down at a table across from us the woman nodded and waved at my wife.  My wife asked if we knew them from somewhere.  The womans response was that she has seen us in the restaurant a few times now so she felt like she knew us.  I thought it a little odd, but my wife being who she is started up a conversation.  I don’t know how the conversation ended up where it did, but it turns out that this couple were also volunteers for Sparrow, the wild life rehabilitator. They help her transport the animals when transport is necessary.  I realize that Sparrow is the only wild life rehabilitator in the area, but how many people are involved in this endeavour.  How many of you release wild life? or transport wild life? or even know a wild life rehaber?  I’m not seeing many hands.  Yet I’m eating at Denny’s and my wife strikes up a conversation with a complete stranger and of course we know the same people and have the same interests. 

A family at another table was obviously listening to our conversation and they decided to chime in.  While they are not involved in animal rescue on any ‘formal’ level they do have six cats and like our six cats they rescued them all.  They also happened to be looking for a good vet, and seeing as we just found a good vet in the area we were able to help them out on that front. 

After all this time I’m not sure why I am still surprised over incidents like this, but I am.  What worries me is I’m getting used to it, what worries me more is I am starting to think that it is a good and positive way to live.  What pisses me off however is that now I learn that Sparrow has people to transport animals.  Where the heck was this information before the skunk incident?

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The following are just a few examples of how small, small towns really are.

The person who they just hired for a customer service position where I work, used to work with my neighbour.

 A sales person where I work now, used to work at the same branch of the same bank in the same position I worked for, only five years earlier.

My neighbour’s beloved baby sitter had to quit because she got a full-time job.  The full-time job was in the lab where my wife works, (we figured out they were the same person years later)

The maintenance person for the building where my wife works is married to the cleaning person at my work.

My ex-dentists, ex-husband is a sales rep where I work.

My wife’s co-workers husband worked with the person who owned the house my new neighbours now own.

My neighbours grandfather built the house I live in. The granddaughters husband installed our central air and heat for us. Later, the company we hired to fix the original install knew the husband in question.

The entire town I live in, and the town next door to the town I live in know exactly where I live if I mention that I live in the ‘old Donaldson place’

The entire wait staff at Denny’s not only knows us by name but our drinks are practically waiting for us before we sit down.

When I go to the local market, and by market I mean gas station with a little store attached people tell me, ‘so you are the ones with the husky who are living in the old Donaldson place”

You don’t have to know my name, just mention the Canadian eh and they all know who you are talking about.

When you go to any sort of ‘meeting’ and everyone is made to stand up and introduce themselves 8 out of 10 people work at the same place.

Never mind small towns, how about a close knit family, go ahead give a listen.

I\’m my own grandpa

Stay tuned, I’m sure I’ll add a few more and I’m sure you will have some of your own to add.

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In the early 2000’s I was standing at my teller window when one of our regulars came in to make a deposit. She showed me a picture of the cutest little Siberian Husky puppies one could ever imagine.  Except for the fact that they were adorable and that for once somebody wasn’t showing me baby pictures,  I didn’t think too much about it.  Time passed, another litter of puppies came and went and life continued on its merry way as it tends to do.

Two years later my wife and I are standing in the parking lot of a grocery store in the tiny town of Phillipsburg when my wife tells me she is ready for a kitten, we already had four cats.  “I’m ready for a dog” came my reply.  She told me to start building a dog house.  Building a dog house sounded like fun so why not?  We thought about what kind of dog we would like, we both agreed it had to be big, no drooling, no barking, good both indoors and out, had to like cats and have some guarding instincts.   The doghouse had just gotten underway so we were not quite ready for a dog but we decided to check out the SPCA,  upon entering the dog room the first thing that struck me was the unimaginable amount of noise, it was truly an assault on my ears.  I made my announcement in the middle of the chaos.  “The first one of you who is not barking has a shot at coming home with me.” In a corner kennel was a massive black dog.  It wasn’t barking, it wasn’t paying the least bit of attention to me, the dogs or anything really just lost in his own world.   My wife and I looked at his information.  Shadow was the dog’s name, he was surrendered by the owner with no explanation and it came from our little town.  We asked if Shadow had any issues with cats.  Shadow was then taken to the cat room where a staff member shoved a cat right up into Shadows face.  Shadow could have swallowed the cat whole but he didn’t so much as bat an eyelash, the cat was too stunned to do anything, so far so good.  We put Shadow on a leash and took him outside. The minute he hit the fresh air he came alive and took me for a drag.  He probably knew his name but certainly didn’t care.  He didn’t stop, he didn’t sit, he didn’t even acknowledge our existence and he was amazingly strong, stopping him was quite the issue. My wife would not have been able to walk this dog. There was a mountain of issues involved with adopting Shadow, he had no manners making him difficult to control, he had some health issues as he was loosing hair, but there was something about him that touched both my wife and I so he became a possibility but we were not about to rush into anything, the responsible thing to do was wait, we were not at the point of dog ownership and Shadow was a large handful.

At the end of our road across the highway there is a travel trailer and a dog house which was home to a large black dog.  (At this point we have to travel back about a year from the above story) while driving to work one day we noticed that the travel trailer had disappeared but the dog  was still there, worried that somebody had abandoned the dog we knocked on the closest door we could find.  Turns out the people who owned the house also owned the dog.  That dog was Shadow. (Another jump in time, to our current story) Earlier in the week my wife had commented that we don’t see the dog anymore and we figured the owners schedule had changed (he was a security officer for Penn State) and we didn’t give it another thought until driving home from the SPCA when my wife put it all together.  Once again life in a small town rears its head.

We never saw Shadow again but I think about Shadow often, I feel I let him down. I know Shadow was never meant to be ours, life has a way of telling us what is and what isn’t, all you have to do is listen and in this case there were just too many obstacles being thrown between us and Shadow.  In the end we wound up with the right dog.  Still when I think of Shadow I can’t help but feel a little heaviness in my heart.  I can only hope he found a good home.

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Just because this is a small town and the locals are all connected if not related  It really is a small world  doesn’t mean that it’s a tight-knit community.  Five years back we were having a campfire with some neighbours one of which works at the university.  I was working at the bank at the time and we started telling tales.  Turns out my neighbour worked in the same office as Joe the bursar who makes daily deposits at the bank.  Next day Joe walks into the bank and I mention that one of the people he shares an office with is my neighbour X.

Joe: “Oh” he says to me, “so you must live over on hill street” (location and names are changed to protect the guilty). 

Me:  “Yes, right next to x, in fact her father in law used to own both properties” 

Joe: “Really, you must be in the old Smith house, I grew up around there”

Me: “Yes”  my wife has always told me if you want to let a local know just where we live all you have to do is let them know that we are in the “Old Smith Place” so I was amused by the response.

Joe: “Oh so you are next to the Hatfields” 

 At this point my dear readers you have to know I am not always quickest horse on the track as Joe’s last name happens to be Hatfield.

Me: “oh yeah the entire clan lives on my street” and I started humming the theme song from deliverance ‘dueling banjo’s’  the middle part of the song

Joe: “You live near Jane?”

Me: “Yes Jane shares a property line with us, do you know her?” I innocently ask.

Joe “She is my grandmother”

Now I am seriously regretting my rendition of dueling banjo’s and I’m trying to find a way to dig my way out of the hole I’ve now found myself in, and this is not a little hole.  Joe is the bursar of the university, the largest business around, the reason the whole town exists, a town that for some reason has a bank on every corner and I just called his grandmother and most of his family redneck hillbillies. You would think at this point I’d know when to keep my mouth shut, but I haven’t  So I add, “I’m sorry to hear about your grandfather I didn’t know him well but he was always nice to us.”  His response? “what happened with my grandfather?”

“Uhm Joe, he died a year ago from lung cancer” 

“Really?” he says to me, “I don’t talk keep up with that side of the family if you haven’t noticed they are a little strange up there, see you tomorrow” and out the door he went leaving me scratching my head in wonder.

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This is not a work related post. The story however begins at work.  I called a local golf center to narrow down an issue they were having and schedule a time for a technician to go and resolve the problem, we made all the necessary arrangements and I went on with my day.

That evening my wife and I were meeting Sparrow, the director of the wild life rehab center and some of her volunteers for dinner.   There was one couple we had never met but we seemed to have a lot in common.  Imagine our surprise when we realized that he was the person I had spoken to earlier that day to arrange for a technician to come out and fix the problem he was having at work.  Such a small world and it was getting smaller.  Later my wife was talking about her work in the agricultural dept.  It turns out the very same day he had spoken to my wife about some soil samples he wanted analyzed!  What are the odds that we were eating dinner with somebody we had never met before yet we had both spoken to during the day on totally unrelated issues?    It is a small world, and it is about to get smaller.  It turns out that they were interested in purchasing a house just two doors away from ours, unfortunately somebody else beat them to it and the house sold before they even put in a bid.  But we had fun imagining how we could have set up a release site for the animals between the two properties.  But wait, the world was yet to get smaller.  Two years later the house came up for sale again.  We contacted our friends and they were still interested in the propery and are now our new neighbors.  Yes the same one featured in hospital and yes the very same who became attached to the raccoons in Magical moments.  Guess what? the world continues to get even smaller.  At the neighbours house-warming party we met the realtor, the realtor’s husband is an aerospace engineer who teaches at the university, (we didn’t know such a program even existed at the university).  He was from Spain so we got to exchange war stories about immigration and had a lot of fun.  Months later my wife and I went through a lot of time and effort trying to purchase two laptop computers from a company who’s online department  messed up the order in more ways than I thought was possible.  Our saviour was a sales rep at the local branch of the store who along with his manager managed to fix everything.  The day we were able to pick up the computers we were chatting with the sales rep and found out he was studying aerospace at the university and surprise, surprise one of his professors was our next door neighbours real estate agents husband.  Yes, the wold keeps getting smaller.  This week I found out that the new hire at my work previously worked with my neighbor. Why am I not surprised?

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Being a Canadian living in the States I often get asked what the biggest difference is between Canada and the US. Rather than answering such a complex question I gear the conversation to the culture shock of moving from a large city of two million plus to a town of 5114.

In Montreal I lived in a small building which had 12 units. I didn’t know anybody in the building. In Vancouver I lived in a building which had 8 units. I knew three of the other tenants well enough that we could sit on the front stoop and order a pizza. As for the rest, I would consider myself lucky if I’d recognize them when I saw them on the street.

In Port Matilda, or Port as the locals call it, there is no such thing as ordering in. My wife and I live on the side of a mountain just outside of Port proper, while we love our 11 acres of wooded land away from all the hustle and bustle, sometimes it would be nice to be able to pick up the phone and have food brought to us.

I knew moving from a city the size of Vancouver to a community like Port Matilda was going to be interesting. What I didn’t realize was in a small town my anonymity was going to be a thing of the past. Until one Christmas Denyce sent me a Pfaltzgraf catalogue with all the items she would like nicely circled (sometimes life is easy). Now keep in mind that Pfaltzgraf is a very well known, well established 200 year old flatware company located in York PA.

I am sitting in my apartment 3000 miles away from York and I have the companies 1-800 operator on the phone and I’m completing my order when out of the blue the nice lady on the other end of the line says, “So you are the fiancée over in Canada.”! Now anybody who knows me knows I’m not good at small talk. I’ve told this lady the items I want and where I want them sent, thats it! There is no way she can know this about me. I am stunned, I look around the room for the hidden camera, I look at the phone, I find my voice.

“Excuse me?”

“The fiancée, over in Canada, in Vancouver?” she says

“Um, yeah”

“Oh you are just going to love central Pa and Penn State campus is one of the nicest in the country. I certainly hope you like football because it really is big out that way. I know you are not moving to State College but it is the biggest city in that area and chances are that is where you will find work, unless you stay in the magic business, and what a fascinating business to be in, I don’t think I’ve ever spoken to a magician before…”.

And on she went for a good 5 minutes, I sat on my couch with my jaw on the floor. I tried to figure out what number I dialed, could this be the psychic hot line?

“Excuse me” I interjected, “How do you know all of this?”

“Oh I live a few mountain ranges away over in Lancaster county” as though this explained everything.

“by some coincidence do you know my fiancée?”

“No, not at all, although I’ve been to a Penn State football game once.”

I’m not sure how this explained things. The Penn State stadium is the largest of the college stadiums it is used 6 times a year holds just over 100,000 people and probably a good 200,000 show up for each game and if its supposed to be a good game add another 50,000 people. Yet somehow this 1-800 operator knows all about me because she lives a ‘few’ mountain ranges away and has been to a Penn State football game. I know Denyce had never been to a football game so at this point I’m a little confused, and a lot scared.

“okay, is there anything else you need from me?”

“Well Brian, hold on one second I just wanted to che…oh yes here is the order I was looking for, Denyce’s mother called in a week ago and also placed an order, let me make sure you didn’t order the same products. Nope no duplicates however she did order the gravy boat but not the matching ladle, would you like to add that to your order it would nicely complete the set.”

“Um, yeah sure.”

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