Before I begin this, my first post to the Upper Left Edge, let me say that I am honored if somewhat confused by ending up writing for such a great endeavor. I unlike some of the more serious authors on this site hope only to share some stories and if all goes well entertain you a little. I promise no revelations or enlightenment but rather to give you other worlds to consider that I have had the luck to encounter in my own life and enjoyed. As I hope you enjoy my telling of them. So with that said I take the plunge.
I spend much of my time traveling all over the country for work and I have had the privilege of spending time in many different cultures. I am always surprised and delighted by the differences in how people live their lives, their customs, their values, their day to day interaction and relationships. But I have never been more surprised than by moving back to my Father’s family hometown and settling down.
I love the north coast of Oregon, with its rugged coastline, small towns, and strong sense of community. I was raised to believe that you have a responsibility to serve your community and to help whenever you can. So when my husband and I left Portland moved into my family home full time I was looking forward to the rewards of small town living in a community where part of my family has been since the 1890’s. I had forgotten some of the drawbacks about living somewhere that everyone knows your name, in the 20 years that I had been gone but still it felt good to be back and I jumped into the lifestyle with both feet. We had been back for a while when the reality of the cultural differences between life at the beach and life in the city became strikingly clear.
It was 7:30 am on a Saturday morning and I was trying to sleep in. After a long work week of being on the run and feeling overly responsible for just about everything I thought I deserved it. I was in the middle of a luscious dream that had nothing to do with work or responsibility when a phone began to ring. It took a few seconds to realize that it wasn’t a dream, the phone really was ringing and apparently no one else was going to answer it.
“Hello,” I mumbled, half asleep and wondering who was calling me this early on a Saturday morning?
“Is this the Mayor?” the voice at the other end of the line was sweet and elderly.
The question jolted me bolt upright in bed in an instant because, “Yes, this is the Mayor,” was the answer to the question. How could that be? A startling awake up call to a new reality in my life.
My life had taken a twist recently when I found myself (me, of all people) appointed as Mayor of my small hometown. In a burst of civic-minded delirium I had applied to fill a vacancy on our City Council. The position had been empty for several months and there was still three years left on the term before it would come up for election again. The city was facing some tough issues and needed all the help it could get. Since council seats in our community are volunteer positions, I felt an obligation to help. I have always been a big believer in community service and was feeling guilty that raising my children and my career had kept me from being more active in my community over the years. So when the opportunity presented itself I stepped up in ignorant enthusiasm. I completely forgot one of my own favorite quotes, “What goes around comes around” and this was the same small town that I had lived in as a not so upstanding teenager. And now as I lay in bed I realized that there was definitely karma at play here.
“Hello is anybody there,” came the uncertain voice at the other end of the line.
“Yes, yes I’m here. What can I do for you?”
In the moment it took for her to answer I was transported back to how it was I ended up being the person on this end of the call. I remembered my first meeting and all the reassurance I had received from the City Council about how easy being the Mayor would be.
“A meeting a month is all you have to do,” I was assured by veterans at the Council table, “there’s not that more much to it – really.”
Now I am a smart woman and have been around some, so I really should have known better. But I must also admit that I am a sucker for a good cause. So of course, I said yes without a moment’s thought. I envisioned monthly meetings where the citizens of our small city would come together in a public forum to make decisions together for the good of the community in which we all lived. Like I said we are a small town, so how hard could it be, right? Like I said, I really should have known better.
My first meeting as a city councilor erupted in chaos and last about 7 minutes. There was lots of screaming and yelling and I was left at the end in a state of shock. I know now that it was the meeting in which months of building tension erupted. There was so much conflict between the community and the City Council that everyone was so frustrated they could no longer be rational with each other. I missed my second meeting due to a scheduling conflict that I couldn’t change. When I returned from my trip I learned that the person responsible for the chaos at my first meeting had had both the mayor and president of the council recalled by special election. By my third meeting, the council had voted unanimously to appoint me as Mayor. And to think, I wondered why no one with any history on the council was interested in the position. I would never have imagined how naive I could be at 45, but I was about to learn.
“I have a problem, do you think you could help me?” asked the voice at the other end, bringing my reverie to an abrupt halt.
I shook my head and cleared out the cobwebs before replying, “Well I’ll sure try. What seems to be the problem?” I asked trying to be courteous, despite the fact that it was 7:30 on Saturday morning.
The voice at the other end of the line belonged to an elderly woman who lived on the south end of town. I couldn’t imagine what kind of a problem she could be having so early in the morning, that required the attention of the Mayor but I was willing to help if I could.
“Well I have a horse loose in my front yard and I would like for you to come and get it off”
“There’s a horse loose in my yard and I need you to get it out of here,” she said patiently.
“Yes, dear a horse”
“Whose horse is it? How did it get there? I asked feebly stalling for time until my brain could start working again; feeling certain I was missing something or about to wake up.
“I don’t know whose horse it is – they just showed up last night right next door and then the owner left this morning and that darn horse started wandering around all over the place and now it’s in my front garden,” her voice dripped with the indignation of a gardener who has wronged.
I don’t know what I was expecting in that first 30 seconds of my day, but I can assure you that a call for runaway horse retrieval was nowhere on the list. In all the years that I lived in cities and towns all across the Pacific Northwest, I could not even imagine calling the Mayor on a Saturday morning, any Mayor, for just about any reason, and I’m pretty sure that if I ever did call the Mayor, it would NOT be to do animal control!
I lay there in a state of confusion and shock that rendered me speechless. What do you say to a woman with a strange horse loose in her front yard? My degree in counseling psychology definitely didn’t cover this one, unless of course, the horse was a hallucination then I was all over it, but something told me it wasn’t a hallucination.
“I’ll see that it’s taken care of immediately,” I promised with all the conviction of a newly appointed, if somewhat confused City official, jotting her address down as I hung up the phone.
“No problem,” I thought,”I’ll just call the county sheriff,” and I reached for the phone book to look up the number.
By this time I was at least half awake and was starting to feel pretty confident in my ability to solve her problem, now that the shock of it was wearing off. I live in an entirely rural county and have been around here on and off for most of my life. So, I was reasonably sure that when the county sheriff’s dispatcher heard my name and what the problem was, I would be able to immediately hand it off to them. Then I could go back to sleep, and forget about the whole thing knowing I had done my job. I dialed the number and lay smugly back onto my pillows, basking in the glow of my ability to solve my community’s problems quickly and effectively, because, yes I AM the Mayor.
“Tillamook County Sheriff’s Department,” the voice on the other end of the line was female and professional.
“Good Morning, this is Stevie Burden and I am the Mayor of Wheeler,” I said.
“Good Morning. What can I do for you Madam Mayor?”
“Madam Mayor” I liked the sound of that, and was getting cockier by the moment, “I have a report of a horse loose in town about a block off Hwy. 101. I need a deputy to come up and handle it, apparently the owner has left it unattended…”
There was a hesitation on the other end of the line before the voice came back, “I’m sorry Ma’am but we don’t have any officers in the north end of the county right now.”
“Excuse me,” I replied for the second time in the first ten minutes of my day.
“Well, all of our deputies are in Tillamook right now for shift change. Don’t you guys have an ordinance banning livestock in town?”
“Yes we do.”
Now Tillamook is the county seat and about thirty miles south of Wheeler. That translates into roughly 30-40 minutes of driving time on the twisting two lanes of Highway 101 to get to Wheeler. Highway 101 is the main transportation route that runs north and south along the west coast from Canada to Mexico and is heavily traveled, especially on summer weekends like this one. It really was not a good thing to have a horse loose a block off of 101. It had traffic fatality written all over it. Even this early on a Saturday morning there would be 18-wheelers, mobile homes, fisherman with trailers, families, and friends buzzing past at 35 miles an hour, if they were obeying the speed limit, which most don’t, probably owing to the fact, that everyone but me knew, there isn’t a cop within 30 miles of Wheeler on Saturday morning.
“How long will it take you to get someone up here?”
“At least 45 minutes once I track down the right deputy,” this was definitely NOT the reply I was looking for.
“Okay, but send someone as soon as you can,” I replied, hanging up the phone and not caring much for the way my morning was going so far.
I lay there for about 30 seconds realizing that I had a woman and a horse that were depending on me to solve what could potentially be a serious problem. I was baffled to say the least, but what could I do? I was the Mayor and it was my responsibility to handle the situation. I got up, threw on sweats and a hoodie and headed down stairs.
I knew exactly what I was going do. Find my husband. This definitely sounded like a “boy” kind of problem to me. I’d enlist him to go with me and be the one who actually dealt with the horse. As befitting the rest of my morning, no such luck for yours truly. Being an early riser my husband was already gone and probably at the beach running our dogs. That left it once again up to me. So I did the only thing that occurred to me. I poured a large cup of coffee, found a carrot in the refrigerator, grabbed an old dog leash, and headed out the door in search of a runaway horse
As I pulled off Highway 101 I saw the horse peacefully grazing in in the yard of my indignant gardener and informant. Just about that time a pick-up truck pulled off of 101 and into the drive. An unfamiliar woman jumped out of the truck and headed straight for the horse, which was still grazing in the garden but took a brief pause to look us over. My informant was in turn staring at all of us out of her front window. I stood there with leash and carrot in hand and watched as the owner put a lead rope onto the horse’s halter and began to walk it back to a temporary corral that was set up across the street.
As I approached the woman began to apologize before I even said hello, “I’m so sorry…I went to get a cup of coffee and I was only gone for ten minutes. Apparently one of my dogs ate the corral tape. There were two very large dogs looking on pretty sheepishly, as she tethered the horse and began fixing the corral.
“Well fortunately there were no accidents but you know you’re not supposed to stable horses in city limits.”
“I know and I’m leaving today. I just stopped here over night on my way to a show. I’ll have her trailered up and out of here this morning.”
I didn’t see any need to push the point, so I turned and headed back to my car. As I did a County Sheriff’s patrol car turned off of 101 and headed up the street. The officer pulled up next to me, “That was a quick 45 minutes Terry,” I said. I knew Terry from my real job, the one that paid me money and didn’t require me to get out of bed at 7:30am on a Saturday morning.
“I was late coming in for shift change so when the call came out, I turned around and headed back. Is everything alright up here?
“Yeah, the owner got the horse back in the corral before it got down to the highway.”
He hesitated for a moment watching the woman work her horse into the corral, “Do you know there’s an ordinance prohibiting horses and livestock in town?”
“So I’ve heard.”
About that time my informer came out into her driveway to thank me for responding to her call so quickly and to say, ”Thank goodness that thing is out of my garden don’t you know that there is an ordinance prohibiting livestock in town?”
At that point it was incredibly difficult not to roll my eyes in the way that used to make my father crazy. But instead, I assured her that the horse would be gone within a few hours and that, yes, I did indeed know that there was an ordinance. I made my escape and headed home, as the officer headed up to discuss the ordinance with the horse’s owner.
It was 8:25 am when I got home. Could all of that possibly have happened in less than an hour? It had. When I walked in the door my husband was curious to know what had happened that could possibly have induced me to leave the house before eight o’clock on a Saturday morning. So I poured another cup of coffee and told him the story.
We both laughed and shook our heads, marveling at the turn my life had taken and how you really never know what can happen when you step into a different way of life and culture, but sometimes that’s what makes the leap worth it.
To be continued……