About a month ago, I received an unexpected phone call. It led to an interview in Washington, D.C., and then to a job offer. Quite a good job actually — assistant managing editor of The American Spectator. Friends and colleagues urged me to take it, and their advice only made an easy call easier. As you read this, I’ll be boxing up books and CDs and clothes, finishing a few writing projects, finding an apartment, and booking transportation to the nation’s capital.
It’s a great opportunity but like most decisions, it didn’t come without a price. I’ll be leaving my adopted hometown of Lynden behind and, as these things go, probably not coming back for any great length of time in the future. And I am going to miss it.
Some people say that you love where you’re from because it’s where you’re from. The local tap water gets in your veins and becomes a part of you, and other places feel off somehow. But in my case it isn’t true. I grew up in Tacoma, Washington, the ugly twin sister of Seattle, and loathed the place. It was violent, the schools were rotten, and the church that my Baptist minister father served at is my idea of where you go when you die if you’re bad.
Nor is this a controversial opinion among ex-residents. When my mother went to get her license renewed in nearby Bellingham, the photographer, an ex-Tacoman, talked about what a “war zone” it was, and said that nearby Fife “is the last safe place to stop and buy a gun.” Reminiscing about the bad old days, an old friend repeated a popular unattributed proverb: “Tacoma doesn’t care what you think of it.”
The feeling was mutual, so when my family moved north to Lynden at the tail end of my high school years, I was more than happy to tag along. For the last five years, I’ve moved around quite a lot (Langley, Edmonton, Santa Monica, San Fran, etc.), but nowhere permanent. I always landed back in this quiet little town, well off of I-5 and just shy of the Canadian border.
Maybe the hellish experience in Tacoma predisposed me to like Lynden. It’s the churchiest town you’ve ever seen, and it’s Dutch. There are 14 Reformed churches of one stripe or another, which cynics interpret to mean that the First Reformed church split 13 times. The town of about 10,000 has very few large public spaces because the churches serve as meeting areas and engines of change. Lynden Christian schools (K through 12) are so large that they rival the public school system and make the job of passing levies hell on the local superintendent. The local industries are raspberries, dairy, and taking care of retirees (often non-Lyndeners move here because of the reputation the town has with the Van, Vander, and Boven set).
I love Lynden for a thousand little reasons, but perhaps a recent story should suffice. I was at a birthday party for a friend when somebody — we’ll call her Meg — smashed into the rear right taillight of one of the guest’s cars. Meg freaked out and took off. The next door neighbor saw this and interrupted the party to report what had happened.
Now here’s where this story diverges from how it would have played out in pretty much any other town or hamlet that I’ve ever visited: The neighbor knew Meg’s name, and Meg’s daughters, it turns out, go to Wednesday night services at the same church as the owner of the car. The host of the party — a local sheriff — said that this situation could be dealt with either by calling it in or by calling Meg’s husband. He suggested the latter solution. They called the husband and the car was fixed in fairly short order, with no charges filed and no bad blood between the two parties.
Maybe such a thing could occur elsewhere, but I doubt it. There aren’t many places that still have the cultural resources to make a man’s reputation as important as his credit report. Lynden is far from perfect but it’s been a wonderful place to live. I wasn’t born or raised here, but it’s my town all the same.