Gustafson: Small town send-off |

Gustafson: Small town send-off

Britta Gustafson
Then Again

We all have some idea of what a small town should look like and of just what “small-town character” means. Still, it seems that much of it is, and perhaps always was, somewhat of an illusion.

But the more I consider what it is about the small-town idea that appeals to me, the more I realize it’s actually about a state of mind; a place in which we behave as if we live in a town small enough for our community actions to affect one another. It’s where we choose to live and work in the pursuit of a collective vision, a place we want to call home while also enjoying it with those around us.

Here we all contribute, for better or worse to that experience, having the incredible opportunity to be meaningful in the daily lives of those with whom we regularly interact. Because, like it or not, Snowmass is still a small-ish town — most of the year.

One of the unique aspects of this mountain setting that often goes unnoticed but certainly continues to contribute to our small-town feel, is the fact that without street delivery for our mail, we still all regularly visit our post office. Because we all go to that same practical commercial hub for daily services, we inevitably interact with friends and neighbors and the small-town feeling persists.

Jim Owens, our village U.S. Postal Service “postmaster” clerk, exemplifies that small-town disposition. He reminds me of how much we can each contribute to the feeling of community. Now we prepare to celebrate the well earned retirement of our friendly, unsung postmaster.

I can’t help but reflect with admiration on the 31 years that I have had the privilege of knowing Jim. For me, he has always been the face of kindness behind the counter at our tiny, often understaffed, understocked and overworked community post office — a place we still couldn’t function without, but often take for granted.

He has been a staple since I was in elementary school, and like many pillars of this community, he has that unassuming quality about him that contributes so richly to the small-town atmosphere that can still be found here.

Possessing that omnipotent smile, or smirk, of one who knows everyone by face, first name and perhaps even a few discrete tidbits, Jim has been a reliable community staple. In fact he might be the only person in town who literally knows everyone. And that’s the type of community member that provides us with multidimensional small-town appeal, even as we may be descending into an extension of Aspen that arguably draws more from its resort than its community.

Despite the sometimes rude and thoughtless attitudes of some of the customers that Jim often had to encounter, particularly during the holidays when everyone seems to be smiling everywhere else, he still grew out his beard each December and played the part of a good-natured Santa, delivering with a smile, even if through gritted teeth.

We often search in vain for role models who serve as inspirations for how we should live our lives. We idolize celebrities, politicians or athletes. But perhaps we need simply to glean inspiration from those around us who participate in contributing to a better daily life for those with whom they come in contact. Someone who goes just a little above and beyond the call of duty without expecting anything in return. One who receives nothing, perhaps not even the gratitude they deserve, for their hard work; those are the people really worth patterning after.

The focus of life in any healthy community, be it in a small-town or city setting, should be about relationships. With plenty of familiar faces around here, I believe we as residents still value spontaneous conversation and acquaintance-based friendships. Most of us enjoy knowing our neighbors, our bus drivers, our clerks, cashiers and bartenders. If you want anonymity you can escape to a big city. What helps contribute to our safe and healthy small-town feeling is knowing the person in the next aisle at the grocery store, or anticipating a first name greeting from the postmaster. These daily, predictable and kind encounters enrich the close-knit atmosphere we share here — where the little things compound into a thriving and desirable place to live, and where we understand our influence and strive for a collective pursuit of happiness.

Jim will be missed, he will be hard to replace. How lucky are we to have had him? Remember to tell him next time you see him how much he contributed to this place and how he added to the collective pursuit for happiness that we all like to keep believing in. Thank you, Jim, best wishes to you as you open your next chapter.

Let’s exchange a piece of my mind for a little peace of mind; after all, if we always agree what will we talk about? Britta Gustafson appreciates an open mind; share yours and email her at


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