Life in a really small Oregon town

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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.