Born in a little town
The little towns of America are the grassroots of our great country. I feel lucky to have been born in one; Mill Valley in northern California. The Smithsonian magazine named it America’s 4th best small town to live in. Even its name brings to mind a peaceful, homey little village. When I joined its population that’s what it was, a village. Today just 14,000 people live there and thank goodness, it’s still a village.
Norman Rockwell, who painted legendary illustrations of down to earth American life for the Saturday Evening Post magazine covers, might well have chosen this idyllic small town for one of them. And it hasn’t changed its look at all through the years. Its tiny business section and its neighborly neighborhoods are pretty much as they always were.
It lies just across the bay from San Francisco. You take the Golden Gate Bridge or the ferryboat then drive a short few miles and there you are. It’s a must see when you are traveling in the area. While it’s convenient to the city, as the locals call San Francisco, it’s in its own little world, set in the foothills of Mount Tamalpais, sometimes called “The Sleeping Princess.” When you look closely you can make her out. She’s lying on her back looking up at the sky. You see her head, then her chest and the rest of her body descending with the slope of the mountain.
Along the way to the peak you’ll find the 3,500 seat natural stone Cushing Memorial Amphitheatre, where the annual Mountain Play has been presented every spring since 1913.
I have great memories of this special little place. We lived in a little house too. The town creek ran through our backyard. To get there you passed the blackberry vine on the side fence and made your way through the seven fruit tress that led to it. As a boy I hiked 2,572 feet to the top of Mount Tamalpais with my father.
One of my uncles managed the town’s only movie theater. It’s the tower building in the photo . Another uncle was the Chief of the Fire Department. It was a couple of trucks and a handful of Firefighters, but they knew just about every house and building in town. Its two truck doors shown below connect to the City Hall.
My father played on the Mill Valley semi pro baseball team. You’d have thought they were the New York Yankees. They were to us. The field was a mile or so out of town in the country side. It was a … build it and they will come … kind of ball park with just a few rows of seats for the fans, so few you really couldn’t call them stands. And it had no fences. You knew the batter had hit a home run when the ball landed up on the road at the end of the outfield.
My mother was a waitress in the towns popular Esposti Soda Fountain just a few years before this photo was taken. There were eight sisters, the Collins girls as they were known. When the oldest would grow out of the job the next in line would take her place behind the counter.
The town was named for the old wood mill where today there is the park that bears its name. It sits at the edge of a deep, thick, beautiful and dramatically dark redwood forest, dotted with custom designed homes that seem to be at one with the small forest and its trees. When you drive slowly through the forest, strips of sunlight slice through the treetops and you feel like you’ve been suddenly transported into another place and time. It’s one of the town’s wonderful surprises. When in Mill Valley be sure to enjoy this very unique experience.
Well, that’s my home town, at least a taste of it. It’s an indelible part of me, as I’m sure your home town is to you.