Hello, Grant County: Come for the beauty, stay for the malt

Hello, Grant County: Come for the beauty, stay for the malt

PRAIRIE CITY - There was mention that the Hitchin' Post in Prairie City served a good malt.

"I don't know. I've never had one there," said Lyn McDonald, who's officially an administrative assistant at City Hall, but is one of those do-a-little-of-everything secretary types on which most offices depend. "I usually just go across the street to the Lunch Box."

McDonald was able to recommend a good spokesman for the city, which is how I found myself in the City Council chambers with Sarolta (put an "H" after the "S") Sperry, chatting about the Greater Prairie City Community Association's effort to revitalize downtown.

A better ambassador than Sperry would be difficult to find. She may be closing in on 70 years old, but her eyes sparkled and and her smile grew wide as she spoke of her adopted hometown.

"The people are the city's gold - and, of course, the geographic position," said Sperry, who came to the area 14 years ago on a camping trip on Dixie Mountain and never left.

"I beheld Strawberry Mountain, and it was love at first sight," said Sperry, who every year hikes to the top of the mountain.

Within a week she was out of Sisters and living in Prairie City, and she's been talking up the town ever since.

"The years might wrinkle the skin, but you only get old when you give up your enthusiasm," Sperry said.

Keeping a positive attitude has been a big part of life for Sperry, who was born in Hungary, and was 9 years old when World War II raged before her eyes. She arrived in the United States in 1957.

In the mid-1980s, she found her way to Sisters.

With her eye on what could be, it wasn't a surprise that Sperry found it difficult to say a negative thing about Prairie City.

"Don't look back, don't fear the future and look around you with awareness," Sperry said, voicing another philosophy suitable for a refrigerator magnet or bumper sticker.

During a stroll from City Hall to the Hitchin' Post, the only bad thing I heard about the city had to do with water - too much pressure and a chlorine taste. Maybe there are other things the paper should know.

At Dixie Mountain Video, Georgia Patterson, a resident for 24 years, who was temporary help behind the counter, said "Hidalgo" was last week's favorite movie rental. It took both of us a few tries to correctly pronounce it.

The community association started quite a few years ago as a group for city business owners, but has since expanded to included any individuals or organizations throughout Grant County that want to join the effort to make an already good city even better, Sperry said.

The association meets at 6 p.m. on the third Wednesday of each month at the hospice on Front Street.

The group's main concern is to make sure jobs are available.

"We'd like small companies that don't pollute to come here," Sperry said. "They are usually more reliable than big companies, which leave as soon as they get a better offer."

It's not the Chamber of Commerce, but the association does try to promote the area, particularly its artistic appeal, which is right up Sperry's alley. She's a moving force behind the Talents and Treasures art group.

The area is a place to bring a canvas or a camera, and if they do that, they'll go home and show their friends their paintings or pictures and then some of their friends will eventually make their way here.

"Tourism increases with each artist that comes to our community," Sperry said.

One of the first things the association did was start to pretty up downtown.

"We have curb appeal," Sperry said.

Yes, but what about a good malt?

Sperry shook her head and shrugged her shoulders. She's a vegetarian, who doesn't eat dairy products.

When she first arrived here, a lot of people looked at her crossways because there wasn't meat on her plate, but attitudes have changed, she said.

"When I read that you don't eat much meat, I said, 'all right, another one," Sperry said.

It's true I don't eat many animal products these days, but ice cream is difficult to resist, and I do plan to chew a little roasted pork Saturday at the Jimmy Allen Memorial Pig Feed.

It was around dinnertime when I finally sat down in the Hitchin' Post. Linda Brockhill was there grilling burgers and taking orders. I asked for a $2-size chocolate malt.

"Thick or thin?" Brockhill asked.

Thin, I said, but when the cup arrived, the straw was standing tall in the middle of a cold mountain of chocolate.

"I have trouble with the thin," Brockhill said. "Everyone usually orders thick."

No matter. Brockhill may have had trouble with the style, but she had the taste part down cold.

Ted Thompson was there to pick up his usual order of a logger burger, which comes with three patties, two slices of cheese, secret sauce and the works.

For extra flavor, Thompson gets an added slice of ham.

"And he brings in a Pepsi cup and wants it filled with Coke," Brockhill said.

It's his only meal of the day, said Thompson, who works at Grant Western Lumber Co. in John Day.

Tisha Packard, a teacher's aide for special education at Prairie City School, stopped by to pick up a variety basket, except she wanted more chicken strips instead of chicken nuggets.

"I think everybody that lives here is a regular," Packard said.

Heck, I'm going to go back to give Brockhill another chance at making a thin malt.

Scott Mallory is the editor for the Blue Mountain Eagle. He may be reached at editor@bluemountaineagle.com or 575-0710.

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