Small town, quirky lives

  • Cherry Days parade in Paonia, early 1980s

    HCN staff photo
  by Auden Schendler





Though the paper now has a state-of-the-art office, when I worked there it was based in an old church built like a hallway. Cardboard dividers separated Betsy from the interns, and the interns from the bathroom.


Our house, "Intern Acres," had no screens, and no windows in places, just window frames. "That's good," my housemate Rick said. "I don't have to walk to the bathroom at night, I just piss out the window."


The sink was full of dishes, and worst of all, the place was painted like a demonstration tablet for surplus circus paint: yellow on the outside, purple trim inside. I brushed up against the doorframe and it came off as a unit. Rent, including utilities, was $70 per month.


Even though my landlords, Rob and Kay, were dying of lung cancer, they watered their lawn vigilantly. It was as if, after their departure, they would leave behind that tribute to their principles. Kay stayed in her house using oxygen. Rob's forced homebody existence (he was not allowed to use the car because he was on morphine) was punctuated with attempts at escape. One evening, Kay dragged Rick and me off the porch to rescue Rob, who had taken his son's ATV and was stuck in a ditch some miles away. The next morning he drove the ride-mower downtown for breakfast, leaving a trail of cut grass behind him.


Arriving in Paonia, I couldn't fathom spending the summer there. Main street was as small as the short end of nothing whittled to a point. There wasn't even a movie theatre, and in the mornings there were no doughnuts to be found. What would I eat?


Out of the 30 or so people I met, each had some odd story, some reason for being there, or a touch of the manageable insanity that grew pleasantly in town. People came to Paonia in search of catharsis and peace through an understandable routine. They were recovering from love, pursuing artistic dreams, taking a breather from the world, or like Rob, setting their house in order.


Late in the summer, Rob recruited us to move cylindrical blocks of cement into the road to create a port-of-entry to his driveway. Rick and I were baffled, but performed the job good-naturedly. If we were involved in the construction of a monument, we wanted to treat it with respect.


Like one of Rob's missions, the summer came from nowhere, flew by like a dream, and ended abruptly. The three months I spent in Paonia were a lifetime. I remember a friend's goodbye as the summer ended: "If I don't see you in the future," he said, "I'll see you in the past." My Paonia friends now extend from that summer like a jet trail, in view and leading back, like a lawnmower swath of freshly cut grass curving into town.





Auden Schendler, summer "91, teaches math and English at Colorado Rocky Mountain School in Carbondale.