Tales of a 21st Century Gypsy

June 1, 2006, Trumansburg, NY
Itís not Sanger or Tucumcari

Staying with my sister made me realize that my theories about the demise of the small town are all wrong. She lives in Ė or outside of Ė Trumansburg, NY, a town of about five thousand in the Finger Lakes region of New York, some thirty miles north of Ithaca. Trumansburg is nothing like either Tucumcari or Sanger. I donít know what the economic base of the town would be, but these days I imagine itís the base of the region that matters, not the town itself. I donít really know what the base of the region is, either, but Iíd guess itís a mix of agriculture, tourism, and the universities in Ithaca. Maybe some IT and research spinoffs from Cornell? Some publishing, or other academic spinoffs? Thatís just a guess. And then of course there are the services needed everywhere; retail, medical, government, and so on.

Trumansburg doesnít have a distinct focus within that, though it may be known as one of the cuter towns around. But what it provides are the things all towns provide. Groceries (two of them), a pharmacy, a great New York pizza place, probably a few bars. A car parts store, a gas station, two dollar stores, some agricultural supply places, a hardware store. A town government that runs a school system, a public library run by someone, no doubt a fire department, maybe a doctor or dentist. Trumansburg also has a few things that might differentiate it from the other towns around. The Rongovian Embassy (better known as ďThe RongoĒ), a well-known Mexican restaurant and bar with live music in the evenings. A branch of Gimme Coffee!, a trendy coffee-house where the high school kids hang out in the afternoons. A music school where my niece is taking piano lessons. But aside from those, itís a small local center, like most others in the area.

But it is a center. While most people around Trumansburg probably donít work there, they do go there routinely to run errands. My sisterís family does, at any rate, even though sheís in Ithaca every day for work and could easily go there instead. So they all depend on the grocery stores, the library, the pharmacy, the FLAPS (thatís vanagonese for the friendly local auto parts store). And of course the kids are there every day for school.

In fact, the schools are probably a lot of what makes Trumansburg a community instead of a shopping strip. And that is probably true of Tucumcari and Sanger, as well. People know each other because their kids meet in school. The adults, at least those with children, are of necessary part of a common enterprise tied to Trumansburg. School events are part of what the school comes together to do Ė plays, sports, concerts, graduations. While I was there we went to one, the awards ceremony for the graduating class, from which one of my nephews came away with an impressive array of awards. The parents at that event

know many of the kids, not only their childrenís friends, and they are following the lives of the whole community, not only their own lives. So the school knits the community together, at least the part of it with chidren.

The obligation to pay local taxes, and the decisions of how to use those taxes, must also build a community, though I doubt that the taxpayers perceive that in a positive light. Yet the issues that come before the town council or the school board will be something local residents have to grapple with together, and the decisions will be ones they all have to live with. Not momentous ones, perhaps Ė while I was there one of the big issues concerned the unhealthy nature of the food sold at high school football games Ė but still ones that they fight about together.

As to whether the kids stay or leave Ė probably some of each, though Iíd guess more leave than stay. Many go away to college, and probably will not live in Trumansburg again. But some stay Ė one young woman whom I remember hearing about when she was a child is still in Trumansburg, and works at the coffee house. Another girl whose name I also remember, however, went to college in California and had just returned for the summer. No doubt some kids stay and go into construction, auto repair,

home maintenance, and the other jobs that every community needs. And new people will arrive, as people attracted to the region decide that Trumansburg is where they will settle. Iíd further guess that the newcomers Ė Cornell professors, say, or people like my sister, who works for Cornell Ė will be more educated than those who grew up there and stayed. Which in turn may have interesting implications for the political dynamics of the community. But thatís probably taking my speculations as far as they can go Ė if not further.

Clearly, though, thereís a lot of life left in the small town. Iíll have to rethink Sanger and Tucumcari one of these days!

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