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Life in a really small Oregon town

November 29, 2012

By Michal Ann McArthur,
Bend writer

When my friends Claryce and Bill Parker moved to Spray, Oregon, the population exploded to a whopping 162. Often, as I drive through a town like Spray, I wonder what life is like for a woman living there. Claryce gave me a fascinating peek.

First, I was curious about shopping. Spray has a general store, run by a husband and wife. Downstairs they sell hardware, upstairs they sell groceries. They usually have bread, milk, and eggs, and maybe a little produce. “There’s not even as much as a 7-11,” says Claryce.

So how does she cope when stores are a three-hour trip away? She plans sewing projects and meals a month ahead and buys food in bulk, storing staples like flour and sugar in big airtight plastic bins. Most homes in Spray are equipped with large, well insulated pantries. The Parkers go shopping once a month in Bend.

“What about fresh produce?” I asked. Claryce says that everybody has at least an apple tree. The Parkers have three, as well as apricot, pear, and peach. A grapevine grows on a fence in front of the house with both green and purple grapes. They put in a garden this year for fresh vegetables. “Everybody shares. You can find free extras sitting out on the front porch of the general store or at church.” It turned out the Parkers didn’t have that much extra. The deer got most of it. “There are always deer everywhere. Deer walk up and down Main Street.” Next year, the Parkers plan to build a high fence around their garden.

The gas station isn’t always open, but down the street is a market and deli with a short menu of chicken, hamburgers, and nachos, and a gas pump. Gas is a little over $4 a gallon. Most people have 500-gallon gas tanks on their property and have them filled as needed.

A couple of gals have an espresso and pie shop with little tables and a covered porch. Inside are shelves full of used books, as close as Spray gets to a Starbucks at Barnes and Noble.

If you get sick, a PA runs a small clinic, open four days a week. Volunteers drive a bus to Bend once a week that will take people to doctors’ offices, Safeway, Costco, etc., for $5. Twice a year, the women get together and pick a date for their mammograms. They call the bus that day the “Booby Bus” and after their appointments, they all go out to lunch together, no men allowed.

This year, a total of 32 children are enrolled in the Spray public schools, 17 in grade school and 15 in high school. Moms don’t need to worry about the quality of the education because 90% of the high school graduates go on to college.

There’s one church in town and about 45 people attend. Cell phone and Internet services, while available, are a bit irregular. Crime is minimal.

Everybody knows everybody. When Claryce went to church, a woman she’d never met apologized for not coming over to help her unpack; a family emergency had taken her out of town. When Claryce had company from Bend, a neighbor showed up at her door with dessert for the guests. Spray women get together on different days of the week to make cards, to quilt, to have a Bible study, and once a week there’s a senior lunch at the grange for $4.00.

Claryce says she’s never bored in Spray. She stays busy, but it’s “a different kind of busy.” The pace of life is slower, which she finds relaxing and peaceful. She enjoys the clean air, clean water, and beautiful views of the John Day River and surrounding hills. Maybe my husband and I would like to retire there. Wow, the population could actually swell to 164. Imagine that.

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Discuss this article

Denice Crawford November 29, 2012

I just cherish small town life. I miss it.

noname November 29, 2012

I guess Spray is such a small town, I did not know it even existed in Oregon. Life goes on.

Jan November 29, 2012

I would love to move to Spray. Maybe someday…

Alpine Dan November 29, 2012

Okay, NOW you’re talking. This is my idea of living.

Bob November 30, 2012

Reminds me so much of my life in a small town in Indiana when I was a young boy. Very peaceful. Thanks.

Andrea Parunak November 30, 2012

What a fascinating peak into such a different world! Every time I drive through tiny towns like that, I wonder what in the world people do to support themselves and make a location like that work. Thanks for answering some of my questions.

Kindred Spirits November 30, 2012

Life slows down in a small town. That is why I like it.

Terisa November 30, 2012

Oh, it makes me homesick……so glad this way of living goes on…..I love the picture painted here…….big sigh

Kay November 30, 2012

I found your article quite interesting and insightful. The people are friendly and help each other which is how we are supposed to live but so often don’t. You made me smile with the small antidotes such as the deer and reference to Starbucks and Barnes and Noble. Very well written, insightful, interesting and humorous. Sounds beautiful, and a pace of life many of us would love to live.

Claryced Parker November 30, 2012

You did a great job Ann – love the comments

Kathi November 30, 2012

Loved the Booby bus and the idea of the women working together to make an unpleasant experience into something special. Spray sounds just like Dafter, where my husband grew up. There’s much to be said for the wholesomeness and connection in small communities. I think the sequel for those of us living in big cities is often our “church family” and the care and love we share in that setting.

T. Taylor November 30, 2012

Now that is small town living to say the least. It sounds inviting but would certainly be an adjustment for this city girl. The simplicity and generosity are reminders of what really is important in life.
I can relate to the deer issue. They tromp through my garden and nibble on my flowers constantly and I live in the big city of Bend. We’re getting a fence next Spring!

Yvonne November 30, 2012

Loved the details in your story, Ann. They evoked pleasant memories of growing up in a small town in South Dakota. Two stores stood side-by-side on the main street with hitching posts still beside each one; one had the post office in it and the other the only gas pump in town. Simpler life and time!

Gene November 30, 2012

I’m sold. Where do we sign up and when can we move in?

judyr December 1, 2012

Delightful article. Engaging writing style. Touched a longing in me for a slower pace, quiet and simplicity.

John December 2, 2012

Very interesting view of life in a small town. The sense of community is really very strong. How wonderful.

Judy December 6, 2012

Loved the article. I think small towns are wonderful.

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