Alfalfa field, courtesy of Pagarau, Pixabay.com
The term “sense of place” brings to mind my hometown, Brawley, California, a farming community with a population of about 26,300.
Brawley has no malls, fancy restaurants, big clothing stores or even a movie theatre. Nor does it look out on beautiful beaches or green mountains. Instead there are rolling fields, stacks of hay and tractors driving down the main street, not to mention the smell cattle and the aroma of sugar beets being processed at the sugar plant.
In spite of being small, Brawley is unique in many ways. First, the drive from one side of town to the other takes less than ten minutes, it’s impossible to get lost. Brawley is also charming and peaceful, its main street lined with tall palm trees. The surrounding land is devoted to agriculture, with fields of alfalfa, lettuce or sugar beets, not to mention feed lots. A newcomer may wrinkle their nose at the scents of cattle and alfalfa, but I love them because they remind me of home.
When visiting Brawley, you will most likely see a wide variety of tractors or hear horses neighing or cows mooing. You will notice that our streets are never jammed with traffic or
pedestrians, and you will not find a tall building anywhere. Many of our stores are owned by local families, making them unique to this community. One such company is Brandt Beef, a family-owned producer that serves upscale restaurants and retail markets as far away as New York. Johnny’s Neighborhood Market, the most popular eating spot in town, is another successful family-owned business.
Depending upon the season, a visitor may witness the harvesting of crops such as melons, lettuce, alfalfa, carrots or even cotton. Nearly one quarter of Brawley’s residents are employed in the agricultural industry, including my grandfather. He and his brother moved there from Oklahoma in 1938 and started their own farming business with his brother, working side by side for more than 50 years. Brawley has transformed into one of the most productive farming regions in the world, and I am proud to say that my family has been a part of it.
Brawley also holds all of my childhood memories. The most exciting event I can remember from my childhood is attending the Cattle Call Rodeo, for which the town is justly famous. The event takes place in our Cattle Call Arena every November and includes events such as team roping, bull riding, barrel racing and team pinning. Team pinning is my favorite because I get to watch and cheer for my uncle who has competed in this event for many years.
My mother also participated as a member of the Desert Dolls Drill Team, which performed choreographed maneuvers to music. Highlights of the Cattle Call celebration also include a parade, a barbeque, a chuck wagon breakfast and various dances. Many Brawley natives who have moved away return home for this event every year. It is a great time to catch up with old friends and meet new ones as well.
My high school years were memorable as well. Coming from a small town, teenagers have to find ways to be adventurous, which might include riding dirt bikes down the country roads, toilet papering a friend’s house, going for a midnight swim in the lake or hanging out at the McDonald’s parking lot on a Saturday night. Friday night football was one of our favorites. The stands were always full as everyone went to support our Wildcats. I also enjoyed participating in the Future Farmers of America, as did most of my family, and I volunteered at our local hospital, which lead me to pursue a career in the medical field.
As you can see, Brawley is unique in many ways. My hometown holds all that is most dear to my heart – my family and all the special memories we have created together. My aunt’s house holds many of those memories, being the place where we normally gather. We are a big group, and everyone always makes a special effort to attend each event. We celebrate birthdays, anniversaries and holidays such as Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas, complete with “surprise” visits from the Easter Bunny or even Santa Claus, usually played by my dad. These are the times where we can reconnect with one another, enjoy a good meal and just have fun. Other favorite family memories include fishing trips at the lake with my dad, target shooting in the country and family camping trips in the desert.
My small-town life may be simple, but it is special. It gives me a sense of safety and security. My family and friends live no more than five minutes from my home. We are always there to support one another in good times and bad, and we can be at one another’s side on a moment’s notice. I cannot imagine living my life in any other way. Our family traditions have been passed down through many generations, and I hope to continue them so my future family will have the same sense of place about Brawley that I have.