Elgin, Oregon is my hometown ~ the land rough and remote and I call it mine. Even though I’ve been grown-up and gone now for more years than the 18 that I was spent there, my family roots, heart and soul are still deeply embedded in the Union County soil. My mom and her sisters and brothers grew up here and now my brother and his wife are the only one’s of our immediate family left, raising their kids in our hometown.
Elgin is a small farming and logging community that sits in pretty little Indian Valley in the Blue Mountains of Northeastern Oregon, population around 1200. I swear that all these years later, when I pull into town, the same little old men are still sitting on the same little old bench in front of the downtown corner market. Things and times have not much changed in this remote corner of the world. Some people can’t imagine why we would want to go back there, that things are so behind the times. I try to explain to them that those are the exact reasons, besides the absolute love of the land, that I would want to go back. It’s home. Enough said.
This is the old Elgin Opera House and City Hall. I’m not sure what goes on in the Opera House these days, but when I was a kid it was a movie theatre. There wasn’t a movie shown every weekend, just now and again. It’s a great old opera house with a wonderful balcony and red velvet curtains and seats. There is a notorious story about an old pistol-carrying character who got excited during an old western and shot the bad guy on the screen when my mom was a teenager. During my growing-up years that hole was still there in the screen. Of course, it had to be pointed out and talked about whenever you went to a movie. I wonder if it’s still there?
You know you’re in a small town when the grain elevator is located right behind city hall!
“I am from the cool feel of the big stone porch on a hot summer day
where the sound of laughter and the clink of dishes makes you know that you are safe.
I am from brick.”
This is the house that my Mom grew-up in, the house that I wrote the above passage about in my poem “I Am From Hammer and Nails“. My grandparents lived here for many years and we all have beautiful, loving memories of this place. To me, it brings back memories of Daddy-Longleg spiders and dust; to my oldest sister, the smells and sounds of canning. Behind the house, there was a firepit with Grandpa’s great big fat hotdogs roasting away and long stone benches that were so cool to lay on on a hot summer day. So many cousins running around, so much love.
(My grandparents, Leoma and Rolin Simmons sitting in the backyard of this beautiful brick home.)
“Here we have Elgin High, winning her way to fame.
The purple and white will shine tonight
and romance lies in her name…”
How proud we were to be Elgin Huskies! We had some great teachers at Elgin High and a whole lot of small town pride!
This is C-Zers drive-in and is an Elgin icon. My Uncle Estel and Aunt Flossie Sagers owned it years and years ago but sold it when I was just a little girl to the Churchill family. C-Zers is the only place I’ve ever known of that has BBQ french fries. They are amazing and a must have whenever you’re in town. When I was a little girl, on the last day of school each year all the buses would stop here and we would each get a soft-serve ice cream cone before the buses headed out on their routes to take us country kids home. It was a great tradition that we all looked forward to every year.
There are so many things that I could tell you about Elgin – the Christmas Eve tradition of Santa coming around on the firetruck and bursting into the houses with bags of nuts, candy, and an orange for every kid in the house; the 5 o’clock fire alarm that rang every day; my grandparents hardware store and lumber yard where I helped grandma take inventory every year; the Grande Ronde River that runs through the edge of town and is a fantastic place to spend a hot summer day; the sound of the whistle blowing at the mill; the train rumbling through town. I could go on and on without stopping but I hope that just in this short post you can get a feel for the small town that, to this country girl, was the ideal place to grown up. Perhaps a place where your ancestors walked as well.