Several weeks ago, I was chatting with Mayor Paul Becker about the cultural treasures we have here in historic Jacksonville. The mayor wondered out loud if those of us who have lived in Jacksonville for some time have perhaps become too accustomed to the scenic and historic values of our town to really appreciate what we have here.
This past month, I encountered two families from Europe who expressed their personal excitement of unexpectedly discovering Jacksonville that I would like to share now.
Three hours before Jacksonville’s annual tree lighting celebration, I was walking along South Oregon Street taking in the pulse of our fair city. As I approached the former Eugene Bennett place, I came upon a dark blue car with California license plates parked along the shoulder. As I approached the car to see if they needed any help, I noticed three kids in the back seat and the driver in the front seat looking a bit puzzled. When I looked beyond the car I saw a well-dressed lady standing at the corner of Pine and Oregon with a “lost” look on her face. When she spotted me she rushed up and thrust a copy of the Jacksonville Review toward me, pointing to the inside city map. After she asked me several questions in Spanish while gesturing to the Review several times, I realized she was looking for the “gold first found here” monument located two blocks south of where we were standing. When I offered to help her, she directed me follow her back to the car where I’d find her English- speaking 13-year-old daughter.
I told the daughter, Marina, to ask her father to turn around and follow me to the gold first found monument. Parking at the monument, the expectant family bounded from their car, anxious to learn more about our gold mining history. Using Marina as an interpreter, I learned that her father, Dr. Jesus Gonzalez, was presently teaching Urban Planning at Stanford University. The Gonzalez children, Marina, 13, Anton, 11, and Carlos, 9, are enrolled in school in San Jose and rapidly learning English. They told me that they loved living in the United States and that sadly, their father’s teaching term only lasted for three months and that the family would soon be returning to Spain.
So, for the next thirty minutes, we talked about Spain and our family’s visits to their country, Jacksonville’s gold mining history, and their experiences while living in the United States. Each of them tried to speak a bit of English, though the main translating was coming through Marina. The father told me that he taught his urban planning classes in Spanish, saying, “My English very poor.”
As it started to rain, the family shot a couple of photos of our group and then climbed back into their car. A friend of theirs had recommended that while traveling down I-5 that they should stop by Jacksonville. They told me that our town was “beautiful” and they were so happy that they had stopped by. And that the Review map had been a big help!
As a follow-up to their visit, I received this email from Dr. Gonzales on December 30th: “Dear Larry, I’m Jesús González, the Spanish Visiting Professor at Stanford. We are very grateful for the interesting information that you sent us by mail a few weeks ago. Thank you very much! We returned to Mallorca (Spain) on December 20th. Now we are in Galicia (Spain) spending Christmas with our parents and brothers. I am a Doctor of Geography and Professor at the University of the Balearic Islands (Spain). I research in urban studies and on Latin America and the Caribbean. We are very good in Spain, but we like very much United States. If you come to Spain, you and your family are welcome. I hope you have a Merry Christmas with your family and a Happy New Year. Very best, Jesús and family”
The second recent foreign-visitor encounter happened while, as Town Crier, I was making my rounds up and down California Street during our Victorian Christmas celebration. Decked-out in full Victorian costume, I had stopped by Father Christmas and our own “North Pole.” The place was packed with expectant children and parents who were snapping photos of their children sitting on Father Christmas’ lap.
As I took in this wonderful Christmas tradition, I picked out, above the din, some French being spoken. I wandered over to the family and introduced myself. It turned out the family was from the French speaking part of Switzerland. Stephen and his wife and son, 9, and daughter, 7, were spending a year visiting the western United States. Stephan had quit his job as an accountant and his wife had taken a year’s leave of absence as a teacher. They were “homeschooling” their children. “First comes the French, and then the German, and we will work on the English later,” I was told.
Even though they hailed from one of the most beautiful countries in the world, they were fully enjoying our little Victorian Christmas celebration. “Visiting Santa was very important to our children,” Stephan told me. The family was enjoying the historic atmosphere of our town and our many shops. As they told me their story, the family was bubbling over with happiness.
They had visited Crater Lake National Park the day before. “Beautiful…we took photos of the kids standing by the high snow banks. And the weather was clear and we could see the lake!” Their joy was overwhelming. Upon leaving Crater Lake, they had unexpectedly stumbled upon Jacksonville. And they were so glad they had.
As I continued my rounds that afternoon up and down California Street, passing out event information, I bumped into Stephen and his family several times. The last time that I saw them they were in at the Good Bean Company eating their lunch and “shopping locally.” All were still very happy that they had found our little piece of Americana!
I am sure that there are many such stories being played-out everyday on our historic streets as people from across the country and around the world drop in for a visit and perhaps sit a spell. May we continue to be attuned to these visitors and be prepared to welcome them with open arms. Thank You Mayor Becker for keeping us on our toes.