Helen West believes the only people who can call Hotchkiss "our town" or the North Fork Valley "our valley" are those who were born and raised here. Her letter wasn't quite clear about the required number of generations to authenticate membership, but it sounded like at least two or three. I don't suppose she includes the Utes, of course, who were here ahead of everybody else.
What about the very fine Hotchkiss firefighters, many of whom were born and raised elsewhere; are they part of Mrs. West's town? I hope if she is unfortunate enough to suffer a fire, she will only permit authentic locals to put it out. How about the wonderful Delta county libraries, serving all ages from babies to the elderly, and staffed by people born here, there, and everywhere? I suppose we can't count the teachers, coaches, school administrators, bus drivers, janitors and school volunteers like reading buddies as members of "our valley" unless they have the right birth certificates. I hope Mrs. West and the small numbers of "her town" never need the services of the North Fork Ambulance Association, made up of volunteers new and old, from here and elsewhere. Or the volunteers for search and rescue. Or the assistance of local law enforcement for a breakdown or a burglary. Does she count the doctors, nurses, and other professionals who serve the community as insiders or outsiders? What about the state snowplow drivers who keep our highways clear and safe in the winter? Or the employees and members of DMEA who keep our homes electrified? What about all the workers, from miners to young telecommuting professionals, farmers, ranchers, housecleaners, winemakers, who earn a living and pay taxes and invest their earnings in the local economy?
Mrs. West's "town" is so exclusive it must feel awfully lonely. In this great land of liberty, it's your town if you show up and participate. That's how it works in the land of the free. Being born here in the North Fork Valley is indeed a privilege, and some of the finest people I know are third- and fourth-generation locals. Some of the biggest jerks I know were born here, as well. Many years ago, Clint Roeber remarked to me, "I've seen a lot of changes in this valley in my lifetime." I bet you have, I replied, ready to complain with him about how it's all going downhill. Instead, he finished, "and most of them are good." Now there's a generous attitude. It isn't where you were born; it's how you conduct yourself, and how you treat your neighbors, your coworkers, your community, and your place. I'm proud to call Paonia my little town.