Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Dysfunction, Parkinson's and Small Town Oregon - Day 13

"Dysfunction Junction is what I call it." Marge (not her real name) said, sounding half angry and half resigned as she slid two mugs of coffee across the bar at us.  We were the only patrons in the "R Watering Hole Cafe & Lounge", and she spent no time at all reciting some of the more telling stories about her life in "Unity".  Unity is a town of about 100 souls.  The name came from the agreement forged in 1861 among ranchers on the issue of where to place a post office, around which a small town grew, but now languishes.

Marge was the owner of the business, having bought it as her "last career" after moving up from California 4 years ago.  The sign tucked in the corner of the front window told much of her story in a lot less words - "For Sale by Owner" it pleaded.  She was tired and seemed to want someone to care.  The Watering Hole seemed to reflect her personality; a menagerie of images.  There were hundreds of $1 bills stapled to the walls and rafters, each one noting in bold black felt pen the name and date someone died.  She said there had been quite a few local old timers who had passed on recently, as well as younger ones by less peaceful means.   As proof, she showed us with mixed pride and regret the bullet hole in the sign restricting minors from being on the premises after dining hours.  References to firearms were plentiful but she said not to worry and pulled out a water pistol she said she used when needed.  These days people died in Unity.  Few are born there.

According to Marge, Unity was an ugly misnomer.  For instance, she had been informed by one group of neighbours that they would not come into her establishment because she allowed some other misbegotten neighbours to be served.  Sounded like the feuding Hatfields and McCoys.  "Unity is a hateful place," she stated, "and the town is dying from it".  The sawmill has shut down.  The school enrollment is declining too, with the successful student exchange program on the ropes due to funding cuts.   Unity will either die in a final gunfight or, more likely, slip into oblivion, remembered only in a few old photographs.  I wondered who would put up the last dollar bill above the bar of the Watering Hole with an unsteady note reading, "Here Lies Unity, Dead of Dysfunction".

As usual, I found myself comparing things I observe to Parkinson's disease.  Like Marge, the disease is often about growing tired, less functional and more insulated/lonely as its grip tightens.  Old friends who do not know how to deal with the obvious, and some less apparent, symptoms of PD.  The disease, as with the town, has a difficult time retaining its relevance and vigour in the face of a rapidly developing world.  It is too slow and lonely for most. 

We probably could have stayed in the Watering Hole all day, and there was part of me that wanted to.  But we had more miles to travel to our next stop, Redmond, Oregon.  The coffee was $1.50.  I left $5 for the stories not the coffee or service.  The day was hot, the roads straight and lonely for the most part, with lots of thinking time.  And there were dozens of small towns like Unity waiting to be encouraged, or at least noted.

There is much that we who are challenged with PD or some other threat of dysfunction can learn from Unity.  We can make continuous effort to live up to the town name and not become lone gunslingers who grow bitter about what the disease has made of our dreams.  The fight is against the disease and we need to reach out to others who can help us.   We don't need to necessarily have harmony in the way we fight,  but we need to be focused on the enemy.  Let no one be tempted to tack a dollar bill to some saloon wall with some scrawled note about dying from dysfunction.

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