When my husband Scott and I moved to Copperopolis, a small foothills town on a lake located between San Francisco and Yosemite last spring, we had to take some time to adjust to the quiet of the country after living for 10 years in the thick of bustling Los Angeles. We both work from home and after a few days of nothing but frog and cricket sounds, I found myself in the car driving aimlessly around town, determined to visit all (25?) of the lovely small businesses in our 4000 resident town. Even with the peace and quiet of our new home, I guess I was craving the simple human interaction of having a plain and practical conversation face to face, the type of conversation I grew up surrounded by in small town Kelseyville, CA all those years ago.
My car needed windshield wipers and I noticed there was a sign for a Napa auto parts store – sandwiched between the McDillard’s Feed Store, a boat repair shop and a Baptist church – all housed in a blue metal warehouse type building behind the grocery store. As I pulled into the driveway, the skies opened and a warm spring rain started pouring down in a dedicated fashion. I ran quickly for cover into the Napa store – and entered a dimly lit, dusty but comforting version of an auto parts store. Ceiling high shelves were stocked with bits and bots, wires, bulbs, engine blocks, and shiny aluminum mystery pieces catching the light that made its way through sparkling specs of dust that danced beneath the skylights above.
Chandler Groves, Napa Auto Parts store owner, sat contentedly behind a chipped linoleum countertop piled with dog eared, glossy catalogues and directly in front of several local high school football calendars. A peaceful, contented type guy with glasses in a plaid western shirt and jeans, he had grease under his nails from hours of mechanical fiddling and fixing. Quiet but helpful, he immediately directed me to the right windshield wipers, which I purchased with a couple of attempts at friendly conversation. He seemed a little shy at first, but noticing that he must like football, I asked him about the calendars behind him and his face immediately lit up.
He walked to a shelf behind him and grabbed the schedule from “Last Fall’s High School Playoffs”, launching into a conversation about the Oakdale Team vs. the Sonora team, the BBQ available at certain games and how proud he was of his sons Chandler, Clinton and Cameron – all of whom had played (or were playing) football for the Oakdale High School so well. He went into detail about the most important games and told me animated stories of the most critical plays in each game – referring to the notes he had made on the program – which I assumed he had carried with him to every game, folded lovingly into a fleece lined pocket of a warm and well loved canvas carhartt coat. He and his wife Robin generously invited me and my husband to visit some upcoming fall games with them when the new schedule was made. He promised they would tell me which ones were most worthwhile.
I could barely shut him up about the football, but I didn’t want to either. I was loving it! This was exactly the type of conversation I was looking for – someone in MY town who took the time to talk about nothing critical, nothing business related, just a topic he was passionate about. Just a simple conversation for conversation’s sake. The type of conversation I had been missing from my life for a long time without realizing exactly what it was that I was craving. The kind of simply joyful interaction you can only gain when you slow down enough to take the time to ask questions, and to actually listen to people. I was so happy that day, in that moment because this was EXACTLY what we had moved to the country to find.
Standing there slightly perched on a stool in front of the counter, I chatted with Chandler and his wife Robin and I took advantage of the opportunity to ask him which mechanics in town I should trust and which to avoid – a conversation of unknown value that ended up saving me over $2000 later that summer. Through the course of the conversation, which probably lasted an hour, I even found a local source for fresh organic eggs – and got introduced by phone that very moment. Chandler’s wife Robin gave me Karen’s phone # and I ended up buying fresh eggs every week for $3 a dozen for the rest of the year from a delightful neighbor I might never have met otherwise. This is how I would become connected to my community.
After a while, the conversation comfortably ebbed, as did the rain. During a brief break in both, Chandler opened up the windshield wiper packages sitting in front of us on the counter and stepped out into the drizzle with no additional comment. I wasn’t sure if I was to follow…He walked over to my car, removed the old wipers and replaced them with the new ones with no fuss or expectation of anything else. I was so happily startled that I thanked him profusely, embarrassing him a little bit I think as I look back. I asked a question about a problem I had been having with another valve and without a word or a question, he opened up my hood, pulled out a pocket knife and a bit of mysterious tubing from his pocket and fixed it in about 2 minutes flat. I still, to this day, have no actual idea what he did, but it has worked flawlessly ever since.
I remember I came home that day talking my head off to my husband about local football and fresh eggs, with probably more animated enthusiasm about a random conversation than I had ever previously shown.
Chandler Groves was the first person I ever met in Copperopolis. He was the first person I had a conversation with, and boy, he really took the time to talk to me that day and help me with my little car issues. He went out of his way for no reason, to welcome me to this lovely town of ours and made me feel completely assured that I was in the right place for the type of lifestyle I wanted to have. This brief interaction I had with Chandler reminded me of some important things. People are more important than money, people are more important than time, and that our joy and pleasure should be derived from life’s simple things – like watching a really terrific high school football game. He reminded me with his own passions, about how our greatest pride should be in our children, our families and our community.
Chandler Groves passed away last week after a brief battle with cancer. I only found out about it because I saw an announcement for his memorial service posted on the grocery store bulletin board when I went to buy a chicken for dinner on Thursday. I’m sad that I didn’t know him better but I’ll remember him at every High School football game and think of him fondly every time I replace my windshield wipers.
That conversation I had with Chandler and Robin Groves, and his kind service to me on that rainy April day will stay in my heart. I plan to try to share that simple generosity of spirit with every new person that walks into my life. Thank you Chandler for making me feel welcome.