I have written often of my hometown. Due to frequency it is not always positive, though looking back through the different stories and mentions, the good has consistently outweighed the bad. I am from a small town. A town I thought would never be big enough for me. And in some ways that is true, but in many other it was/is a rather adolescent view of a town that really raised me, and a huge number of people I am still fortunate enough to call good friends. The unifying theme of all of my commentary on my hometown always comes back to the irrefutable influence of being from this small town. “You can take the girl out of Petaluma…”
These days everyone is talking about Petaluma. This has happened before for various reasons: Lloyd Bridges, wrist wrestling, American Graffiti, chickens & eggs, Winona Ryder née Horowitz… gets no link here because even though we were all totally psyched for and about her when she was in Lucas and Beetlejuice (one of my all time favorite movies ever) she loves to say things about Petaluma like this: “In 1988, Winona Ryder’s classmates at Petaluma High School taunted the 16-year-old for her role in the dark comedy Beetlejuice. “Those hick kids thought I was a witch,” Ryder told Time in 1995″… Polly Klaas, top place to live, home to unbelievable local tragedy, MLB star Jonny Gomes. But lately it is all about the young men of Petaluma National Little League. This group of boys – and they are so young – is killing it right now in Williamsport, Pennsylvania at the Little League World Series. Aside from playing exception baseball – really and truly – they are so poised and such sportsmen. And they are having F.U.N. It makes a former athlete and coach smile big.
Some of my favorite details about this entire story include:
- In a town with the traditional Westside-Eastside rivalry (“Eastside’s got Casa Grande, Westside’s got class!” I believe was one taunting cheer from back in the day…) these Westside kids are sporting the colors of the Eastside, though not necessarily their choice, I like the symmetry.
- Watching these kids and realizing that they are the children of people you’ve known your entire life. Or that one of the coaches is your first legitimate high school crush from those tumultuous Eighties…
- Seeing the local movie theater sell out in minutes when they decided to show the game live as a fundraiser.
- Hearing another hometown hero, Jonny Gomes, say: I was a game away from regionals when I played in Petaluma, and if we would have made it, my family would not have been able to go to the game. So, I called up Coach Smith and said, “charge it or do whatever, we’ll get the money to make sure everyone can go.” And through his efforts he got the Oakland Athletics organization and the San Francisco Giants organization, along with Comcast SportsNet to donate $15,000 to the team ensuring that all the families would be able to get to Williamsport to watch the games.
- Seeing the constant updates on Facebook and Twitter from all sorts of people from home feeling proud to be from Petaluma and really excited to support the team in a variety of ways.
- To that point, having friends from far and wide so psyched for these kids and thinking of all us Petaluma natives is awesome.
I have more stories than I could possibly tell of and about Petaluma (you fellow small town conspirators can thank me later for keeping quiet.) And even though memory is not always accurate (what’s up Winona?) I do remember more of the good than the bad. I grew up somewhere where regardless of how different my family was from the “norm” (and they were) it was okay. I benefitted from the small town press and had my few years of fame – “Let’s Go Girls of Troy!” I lived in place where it was unusual to lock doors. I lived in a place that in that always-clear-hindsight we were lucky to call boring, because we were safe, people knew us and looked out for us.
I said I would never go back to Petaluma when I left at 17. Thus far, in terms of permanent residence, that has remained true, but the reasons have shifted. The lessons that Petaluma offered me – definitely not always fun ones – and the connections that Petaluma taught me to create with people, have shaped my life in the very best ways.
Like the rest of the world, Petaluma has changed a lot. I don’t recognize many people when I take a stroll downtown these days. It is bigger – even a bit sprawlish for a “no-growth” community. Things have happened in this town that have been unspeakably tragic – unimaginable in an earlier day. The local politicians are, as Vonnegut warned, our high school classmates. The pervasive “middle-classness” of the place is more variegated. There are fancy-pants restaurants, no longer of the Steamer Gold variety. There are too many antique stores. There seems to be traffic, though I still remember folks who swore they would never drive on the Eastside because of the traffic back in the day. Many of my Westside friends have found themselves on the Eastside – something else they said they would never do. But the dairy farms are still there. The iron front buildings are still there. Tom Gaffe and the Phoenix Theater are still there. It still smells like cowshit when you drive out of town on Bodega, especially in the foggy mornings or evenings. There are still “hicks,” as Winona calls them, but there are all sorts of people there, and a big majority of them have chosen to be a part of the community in a million different ways.
It is heartwarming in the real sense of the word to have something like this to cheer for. And all the little stories of support, connection, and community really do, as the Cowboy said on hearing about Mr. Gomes, restore a degree of faith in humanity.
Now there is a whole new generation of kids who are going to grow up someday – maybe in Petaluma and maybe not – and get to say, “I’m from Petaluma, do you remember when our Little League Team played in Williamsburg?”
Good luck out there guys, everyone has your back on this one!