A feature to the left of the masthead of this paper has a photo of a person who unwittingly walks into the Winters Express office on a Tuesday morning when the week’s paper is being set for publication, and the editor is desperate for a victim. The person must answer the question, “What do you like about Winters?”
Almost 100 percent of them say something like, “It’s a friendly town.” “When I meet someone on the street, they smile.” “Everybody knows everybody else.” In a city of nearly 7,000 people it is not likely to be literally true that everyone knows everyone else, but you recognize and ‘know’ a lot of people that you meet.
I was struck by that this last December when The Main Man and I attended the annual Brewer-Johnson Christmas party. I looked around the room, crowded with 30 or 40 people and all the food anyone could want. I “knew” almost everyone there.
And I don’t mean “know” just in the sense of their name and where they worked, or what their status was. I knew something about them personally. I knew some of the story of their life. I knew them as a human being, not as an occupation or a title.
This is different from Davis where, as a friend has said, “It only takes two minutes after meeting someone in Davis for him to tell you how important he is and what he has accomplished.” (Davis-bashing is a local Winters competitive sport.)
Over time, by being in the same places and doing things with others, you learn bits and pieces of their life stories, their likes and dislikes, what they think is funny and what turns them on. Mr. X has a passion for clear explanations of general relativity (Einstein version); Ms. Y is creative with handicrafts; Mr. Z loves to explore out of the way places; Mrs. W is a mystery buff; Mr. V loves fabric and can sew anything; Ms. Q has been married three times and is about to try it again; Mr. T has an apparently deserved reputation as a Romeo, and so on.
This may be simply because we are a small town, but I think there are other factors that go beyond small size to make Winters the place it is.
First of all, we are 7,000 people. Nobody can know 7,000 people particularly well. But there are subsets of people that you encounter casually in many different venues that make familiarity grow.
Two obvious ones come to mind — schools and churches. If you have children in school, you are automatically involved to some degree with their classmates’ parents and probably work on some projects together once in a while. The same is true if you are a churchgoer.
In Winters, we have numerous other points of casual interaction that induce contacts. First of all, we have a very good, full-service supermarket. We do not have to go out of town to get a gallon of milk or a jar of peanut butter. The problem is that you have to allow 15 extra minutes on your shopping trip in order to talk with five friends you are likely to meet at the market. Or at least a couple minutes to say hello to someone you haven’t seen for a while and find out how their daughter is doing with her new baby in Hong Kong.
The same thing is true for Ace Hardware and Eagle Drug. We can shop in Winters, have most of our needs met, and do not have to treat this simply as a bedroom community. We need to give more credit to these businesses for staying with us during the times when we were not as big or busy as we now are, and when the economy was really slow.
Another factor encourages contacts among Winters residents. We have numerous events that are open to everyone. The Fire Department Fish Fry, the Carnitas Cookoff, the Salmon Festival, Fourth of July, Youth Day, Memorial Day, Earthquake Festival. That is not even to mention dozens of other smaller events that go on all year long — Crab Feed, Grad Night, concerts in the park, speakers at the library, events and meetings held by all the service organizations in town, literally too numerous to mention. Anyone participating in civic life in Winters can be busy almost every day and night of the week with other people — things that make a difference in the daily life of Winters.
If you just want to lay back and chill, have a good time with your friends, you don’t have to go out of town for that, either. What other town of this size has its own music venue, now with 10 shows or so per month? What other town has its own theater company for the past 30-plus years? What other town has two local wineries with tasting rooms and a microbrewery with a fabulous reputation? What other town has a nature park within its boundaries, and a state preserve a few miles down the road? What other town has a trophy trout stream?
And I haven’t even mentioned the restaurants that are too numerous to mention and overrun by tourists every weekend.
We live in Winters; we truly live here. We are involved in the life of the town, we are involved with people who live in the town and those to come to enjoy what we have to offer.
We need to make sure that we do not lose the feeling of owning the town, of belonging to something really good that we want to share with others. We need to continue to want to smile and say, “Welcome to Winters.”
We do not need to grow too big or too fast. We know we have something special. Let’s make sure we keep it.