Post-A-Day 2011: Describe the town where you grew up.
The official description of La Grande from the Union County Tourism website:
Nestled at the feet of the Blue Mountains on the edge of the fertile Grande Ronde Valley, La Grande is a pretty town with lots to offer travelers. With a population of just over 12,400, La Grande is the largest city in Union County and is the county seat. The community is friendly, casual, and has its own brand of sophistication, due in large part to the presence of Eastern Oregon University. The surrounding national forests, lakes, and rivers provide some of the best biking, hiking, skiing, fishing, snowmobiling, camping, and sightseeing opportunities in the state.
The Eastern Oregon Fire Museum is located in the heart of the historic downtown, where you will also find a wonderful selection of specialty shops, restaurants, and the public library.
That description is, because it’s for a tourism website, very descriptive, flowery, and filled with all sorts of tantalizing verbs that encourage people to visit. It’s a fine-enough description, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not the description of my La Grande.
To describe my hometown, you really have to describe the entire Grande Ronde Valley. The Grande Ronde Valley is in Union County, in northeastern Oregon. It is surrounded by the Blue Mountains, and the Grande Ronde River flows through it to the Snake River. The valley is 35 miles long, north to south, from Pumpkin Ridge to Pyles Canyon, and 15 miles wide, east to west, from Cove to the Grande Ronde River’s canyon. The name Grande Ronde means “great circle”.
So with the “official”, or textbook descriptions of my hometown, the place where I grew up, I will expand on them and give you my own description of La Grande, the Grande Ronde Valley, and the other parts of the area where I grew up.
I grew up on Second Street, right below the viaduct that went over the rail-road tracks. Our house was originally a barn (like you can’t tell by looking at it), and my parents remodeled the inside of it several times. The window on the second floor on the right-hand side above the front door was my bedroom. The other was my parents’ bedroom. The windows on the bottom floor are the living room on the left and the dining room on the right. My sisters’ room was on the second floor around back above the family room.
I can’t even begin to try to describe all the memories I have from this house, there are so many, and they mean so very much to me. This is the house we lived in when I started school, and then still when I graduated from high school. It is the house where I had the one-and-only party while my parents’ were out of town, cleaned it up perfectly, and they found out anyway (apparently I cleaned up too well). It is the very first house my parents ever purchased – for $16,000 in 1976. Crazy, huh? It is the house I lived in when I experienced my first heartbreak.
It is the house I still drive by at least once nearly every time I go to La Grande to see my parents.
La Grande was a town of freedom. I realize times are a little different now, but I had all the freedom I ever wanted. We lived only a few blocks from the City Park and Swimming Pool, and Erika and I were allowed to walk back and forth pretty much as often as we wanted. We walked to the Library whenever we wanted. If we wanted to go visit our dad in his office, we walked or rode our bikes across town to the Eastern campus (then Eastern Oregon State College) to see him. We knew the paths we were allowed to travel, how often we were required to check in, and we followed the rules.
EOU has an incredible Education program. When we were growing up, Erika and I were fortunate enough to be able to attend Ackerman Elementary School, which is located on the EOU campus. It was part of the Education program, and Eastern students worked in our classrooms often. I’m not sure what year Ackerman stopped being used as an elementary school, but it was quite a few years ago. It now houses several administrative offices.
The only problem with Ackerman was that it was clear across town from where we lived, and there was an elementary school just over the viaduct from our house. In 5th grade, I switched to Riveria Elementary, and I was finally able to attend school with all my neighborhood friends – several of which I am still in contact with today. Every fall, Riveria held the “Spook-a-Rama” near Halloween. It included a haunted house, carnival game, and lots of other family oriented fun. It was a blast! I can remember lining up outside the gym for the annual scoliosis, flat-feet, and the other health-related tests we had to take every year. I loved this school. It too, has closed down as an elementary school, but still functions as an after school and kids program facility.
Obviously from elementary school, I transitioned to junior high school, and I attended La Grande Middle School. I then went to La Grande High School. I’m not going to lie and say I had a great time there. I didn’t. My time at LHS was pretty miserable, actually. With the exception of a few bright spots and great friends, it was not a place where I was happy. I didn’t really fit in anywhere, and I really struggled with my own identity. I also lost my grandfather my Freshman year, and he was my best friend. I believe that this one event combined with all the struggles I was already having really shaped my high school experience. I do love and cherish some of the experiences I had here: marching band trips, botany class, and quite a few more. It just wasn’t the best place for me.
Once my parents realized exactly how hard a time I was having in La Grande, they worked really hard to get the appropriate paperwork filled out and filed so that I could transfer schools, and I successfully finished high school at Cove High School. I was more successful, happy, and self-assured in the short amount of time I spent at CHS than I was the ENTIRE time I was at La Grande. The difference was like night and day.
Now that I’ve given a run-down of the important buildings and places in my life growing up, I’m going to give a short list of my favorite things about the Valley.
There are so many different ways I could describe the Grande Ronde Valley, there is no possible way I could list them all here. There is only one word that encompasses it all, and no matter how old I get or where I live, it will never change . . .