Village Matters #218: Treasuring a Hometown Feeling

By Ann Christoph

By Ann Christoph

Walk into a room crowded with partiers chatting animatedly. Glasses are raised. Hors d’oeuvres on tiny plates are being balanced. There are conversations that are hard to break into. But there are those faces I recognize and I know that with them there will always be a warm reception. Jim and Jan Hall of Temple Hills seem to love everyone and are so sincerely effusive in their compliments—they are warmth and cheer personified.  They profess to love my column and tell me each time we see each other.  Most impressive of all, Jim brought me an anthology of Steve Lopez’s columns telling me I should have one like that some day. Still, I am sure I was not the only one that received this special treatment. This is how they appreciate people, doing the little extra, making life a joy to live.

“You mean they aren’t here any more?” I was shocked to hear that Jim and Jan had moved to Irvine, to a place more suited, where extra help might be more readily available.

Former Mayor Charlie Boyd had moved away too, when the senior housing facility at Ruby and Coast Highway closed. Yes, I know Dana Point isn’t that far, but it seemed sad that someone who had given so much to Laguna couldn’t keep living in his hometown as he needed more assistance. Laguna Woods, Irvine, Dana Point…neighboring cities offer assisted living options, but now there are none in Laguna.

Hometowns have great value, and now I have two of them, the one where I grew up—Chilton, Wisc., and the one where I have lived for 42 years, Laguna.  Last year when I was in Chilton I met two cousins who I barely remembered from grade school years.  Most branches of my family seem to have few descendents, but the Gruber portion has hundreds. This large family came from Sollenberg, Bavaria, in the late 1800s. My great grandmother, Margaretha Gruber (known as Ret’l), was one of them.  My cousins Herb and Mary Ann are fellow members of that Gruber clan. Herb has notebooks and historical photographs about all the members of the family, and being an avid researcher and collector he was eager to share notes and ask questions about what I knew. We continued to exchange photos and letters from relatives from time to time after we returned home.

Then one day came an amazing offer. Mary Ann had discovered the trunk Ret’l had brought with her from Germany over 120 years ago. It was stored in her basement and she was offering it to me! It turns out that her father had bought her family home in 1943, and these family artifacts have been stored safely there all these years.

Soon the trunk will be on its way to Laguna, evidence of part of our family story and the linkages we still have with the hometown and families we moved away from more than 50 years ago.

That hometown feel is one of the exceptional things we love about Laguna even though most of us don’t have a long family tree in town. We treasure meeting people we have known for years as we go about our daily routines. Cherishing long-term friendships, seeing the kids grow up and begin their own families. Helping each other in time of crisis or disaster. Bringing pot-luck dishes to an informal gathering. Solving community problems and rejoicing in achievements.

But we have gaps to work on. Senior programs and Sally’s Fund work to help seniors remain in their homes, but what about assisted living? How do we help young adults continue their connection with Laguna as they grow into independence? How do we make the peace between what we want as individuals and what is good for others, the community and that hometown cohesion?

Yearning for more of Laguna’s hometown feel — the beauty, the quirkiness, the diversity — more than making our own situation absolutely perfect. That’s the joy of living in a town like ours.


Landscape architect Ann Christoph is a former mayor.

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