My little Hamlet, a delightful splice of Cicely, Alaska and Bedford Falls, is tucked into the base of the mountains. I cherish the extreme beauty and character of this spot; the colors of the dirt, trees, scrub, and sky are as familiar to me as the color of my own eyes and skin.
Here, the mineral-laden underground springs gurgle upward to spit out of fountains, and this water is thought to have numerous healing properties. Centuries ago, the Native Americans believed these springs to be sacred. In the 19th Century, scores of Tuberculosis patients moved to The Hamlet for the beneficial healing waters and extreme dry air. The patients occupied "T.B. cabins", which are still scattered around town, now inhabited by modern-day residents.
The characters around town are easily seen. Folks here don't necessarily try to blend in-- all eccentricities are honored. When I was a child, there was a man who wore a Santa suit year-round and gave candy to all the kids (I know it sounds creepy--he was really nice though); the guy who dresses like D'Artagnan, who one day swept his hat off his head, bowed, and gallantly offered to assist me in carrying my groceries up the stairs ("Mi'lady" he called me); the man who dresses like General Custer and has long flaxen hair and a sharp goatee (I asked him how he was doing one morning and he answered "I'm still walking and talking, so I guess I'm good!"); the guy whose early 70's model Ford pickup is completely covered in hand-painted text of biblical references, poems, and quotations; the couple who keep two llamas on their property and take them and their dogs on daily walks; the man who rode an enormous mule up my street, and when he dismounted to chat with me, the mule blissfully rolled on its back in my front yard and munched on some flowers; a beloved local artist, whose tall, lanky figure you can see moseying around the streets of The Hamlet,wearing a blue cotton shirt, black pants and suspenders, his long, flowing white hair and grizzled beard making him look like an Amish farmer/prophet.
For years, rumors have persisted that practioners of the black arts populate The Hamlet. People from our neighboring city ("Next Door") discovering I live in The Hamlet often ask, "Oh, you're from The Hamlet. Seen any witches?" One guy said to me with perfect seriousness, "Yeah... I wanted to buy a house in this area and did some research on The Hamlet. I found evidence of lots of witchcraft, so I didn't buy there." An odd statement, I thought. Having grown up in The Hamlet and lived here for many years, I have yet to see any "evidence" of witchcraft. Where did he find this evidence? Did he drive through The Hamlet and see little dolls made of twigs hanging from the trees? Did he visit a realtor's website and its 360-cam panned over a bloody altar? Apparently he knows something I don't.
The privately-owned shops in The Hamlet are run by proprietors proud to be off the big American retail corporation grid. They sell antiques, souveniers, handmade musical instruments, pottery, handblown glassware, and custom-designed jewelry. Most Hamlet stores cater to the tourist trade and during the winter months, storeowners will tell you that money is tight. Their businesses rely almost exclusively on out-of-town visitors the summer months bring.
There are many Victorian homes in The Hamlet-- some updated, some shabby. The influx of well-off young professionals are eager to renovate these homes (understandably). Developers are attempting to upgrade The Hamlet's purported housing shortage by building over-priced homes and condominiums, knocking long-time residents out of the housing market. Despite these changes, most long-time residents want to stay in The Hamlet and jealously defend the time-worn, shabby charm on display here. They are suspicious of change.
The politics of The Hamlet is a very hot topic for the locals. Over beers at any one of the local bars, you'll find residents discussing the state of the roads, the ridiculousness of the "upgrades" being given to our town in the form of faux-Victorian streetlights and wider sidewalks, the ineptitude of The Hamlet's council, the Barney Fyfe-esque police force, etc. Overall, the political climate is quite liberal here, unlike Next Door, which is heavily populated with fundamentalist Christians, homophobes, and the like.
The Hamlet locals have a decided snobbishness about our side of town (because it's so cool) and avoid the "East Side" as much as possible. My girlfriend "Gwyneth" calls the East Side "The Brave New World" and we joke about the poor bastards who have bought brand new, quarter-million dollar homes directly under the flight path at the airport. The East Siders love it out there; it suits them perfectly. There are mega movie theatres, strip malls, chain restaurants and big department stores that suit their every need. On our side of town, we tend to see movies 1.) at home or 2.) venture to Downtown Next Door's old renovated theatre which typically features art films or film festival winners. At Christmas, we try valiantly to shop for gifts at our locally-owned stores (this is very difficult to do, but it IS possible. Sometimes, though, you do have to make a run to Toys-'R'-Us or Borders; it's practically unavoidable). When we eat out, we tend to gravitate to family-run places, but once in awhile we go to the dark side and eat at Next Door's Olive Garden (because of the salad dressing, don't you know, and those fucking heroin-laced breadsticks) or other chain-type places.
Of course I love our cemetery, as it is small and quaint. I visit it quite often not only because I like cemeteries, but also because many people I know are buried there: Lisa's grandmother, Delphine, who could make me laugh until I cried and who also had a perpetually perfect manicure. Jamie and Jeff, both plagued by depression and who both committed suicide. My brother-in-law, who died on a terrible Christmas Eve ten years ago, and the top of whose tombstone is still smeared with the long-ago lipstick of my sister's kisses. Tina, a life-long equestrian and horse lover, who one day fell off of her horse and suffered fatal head injuries. Deanna, whose sweet face is memorialized on her tombstone in a brooch-shaped photograph. Danny-- who I didn't know had passed until I saw his stone a year ago while taking a quiet walk among the graves-- has a pine tree next to his stone, which is dressed with faded Christmas ornaments dangling from the branches. From the cemetery, you can faintly hear the excited screams and cheers of kids up at the track of my old high school located just over the ridge, providing an additional shade of eloquence to the place in which you stand.
I'd like to say I'll never move from here, that I'll live out the rest of my life in The Hamlet, but Mom was right when she told you to never say never. I hope I'll always see the lilacs bloom in the spring here; the snow frozen on the mountains well into the summer; the gold leaves falling slowly to the ground in the fall and the perfect hush of a snowy night, snowflakes falling out of the sky illumed by the street lights below my house. While I am here, I know it's such a perfect place to be.