A Shoebox Town

When I was a girl in elementary school, my teacher gave us a class project:  make our downtown out of shoeboxes.  I was so excited!  I got to make the Tibbetts Store, a small clothing store, as I recall.  Each of us kids loved that project, and when we were done we had a little shoe box replica of our downtown, different sizes of shoe boxes representing the Whittier Bank,  Woolworths, the movie theater,  the drug store, the paint store, the pet store, the book store and the toy store and all the other businesses that comprised our dear little town of Whittier, California in the 50s.

As I recall that project, what I remember most is how none of us, being third graders at the time, would ever have thought that those buildings our shoe boxes represented would ever be home to other businesses.  Of course there would always be the bank and the Woolworths!   What downtown didn't have a pet store with puppies in the window?  

Interestingly, I still carried the same sense of things not really changing long into my adulthood, despite evidence to the contrary.  When my kids were little, it just didn't dawn on me that the Foster Freeze or the Big Bear super market or Handiman or Unimart would ever not be here.

Today I am as aware as anyone of the change that comes to us all through our lives.  And here in our little Village of La Mesa we see it everyday.  One business closes.  Another opens.

It's the nature of business and of course, change is also the nature of life.

Tomorrow I will be celebrating my 65th journey around the sun.  I will be eligible for Medicare.  My hair isn't the same color as it was when I was building my town out of shoe boxes. I'm taller too. And I can vote and drive a car.  So many changes since I was a girl.

But what doesn't ever change is how wonderful it is to have friends to love, to have a family who loves me, to be able to drive a car and work at a business that sings to my soul.   What hasn't changed since the shoebox uptown project is that it is good to be part of a community and it is good to be able to walk downtown and buy something or eat something or read something because someone had the courage to turn the OPEN sign around on the front door of their individual life size "shoebox."

Thank you to everyone in our Village who either has or had a business.  Your contribution to my life, to the lives of all of us privileged to be La Mesans, is incalculable.  Really.

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Tags: Chris Shea, La Mesa Today, La Mesa Village, La Mesa news, On La Mesa


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Comment by Vanesa Zuniga on May 11, 2012 at 10:37pm
Very nice article! :)
Comment by Lisa Moore on May 11, 2012 at 8:13pm

Thank you Chris Shea for sharing some memories of an earlier peaceful life in your "Shoebox Town"  It  transfers me back to an earlier time in a small town in my native Canada...where life seemed so much simpler. I have recently looked up that little town of Barrie, Ontario on a webcam and found a lot of those memories I have of it are no longer there.....but in my search, I did see a few, allowing me to return to those days in that small town that I so enjoyed.   "The Village" of La Mesa brings to mind some of those pleasant times in that small town in Canada.    Also, a very happy belated birthday!   

Comment by chris shea on May 11, 2012 at 9:54am
Thanks Ernie!!
Comment by Ernest Ewin on May 11, 2012 at 9:51am


Thank you for giving me good cause to pause...and reflect and feel the rush of smiles as I remember earlier experiences.

The Helix Theater, the original Sportland, Kiwanis apples at the Rail Spur, the Dansk Tea Room; riding bikes around and over long gone open space and taking my first spring bat swing in Little League. As I gleaned from your "...Shoebox Town", "yesterday is today but not tomorrow". Thank you for all you do and share... Happy Birthday Wishes to YOU! Ernie

Comment by chris shea on May 11, 2012 at 9:40am
Similar small village areas. So wonderful for the sense of community.
A little slice of heaven, I'd say.
Comment by David B. Givens on May 11, 2012 at 9:31am

Great article!  I, too, have fond memories of downtown Whittier, and of downtown La Mesa (before "the Village" [but I really like The Village, too!]).  Happy birthday!

Comment by chris shea on May 11, 2012 at 7:59am
I think the secret to a happy heart is to make sure
there is space--ample space-- for every good and new
and noble thing that's new day as well as having room--ample room--
for time honored treasures we would be diminished by if we let them fade away.
Comment by La Mesa Today on May 11, 2012 at 7:34am


I can't tell exactly why, but reading your piece this morning reminded me of watching shows like Green Acres, Andy of Mayberry and Petticoat Junction when I was a kid. Over time, we discovered that these shows, depicting mythological small towns, were blurring together. Mr. Drucker ran the grocery store in Hootersville and Petticoat Junction, for example. Goober Pyle, Gomer's cousin, lived in Mayberry and connected those fictitious worlds. And so the other night, relaxing with red wine in hand (one is good for the heart, two is better), I turn on the TV and notice that the merchant from Pawn Stars is having the guys from American Pickers track down an old car to be rebuilt by the guy on the American Restoration show. And in a perfect world, we all would walk into the La Mesa Pharmacy, find them all sitting at the counter awaiting an egg-cream with Mr. Drucker behind the counter.

Chris Lavin

Comment by chris shea on May 11, 2012 at 7:20am
Thanks Bill!!
Comment by Bill Jaynes on May 11, 2012 at 6:51am

Happy Birthday, Chris!

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