Friday, June 29, 2007

Do You Know Your Neighbor ?

Since starting my blog way back in 2005 I have commented on the lack of community most of us feel. We no longer have extended family close at hand, or know our neighbors. We seek to sooth the loss of community by having cyber friendships, which is not a bad thing, don't get me wrong, but cyber anything is just a bit short of the real thing.
Do you remember the days when new neighbors were greeted with a plate of cookies or a cake, along with a very important thing, an introduction ?
How many of you knew your cousins, aunts and uncles as children growing up ? Now ask that of your own children ?
How many of us can remember the small grocery store where you knew the name of the owner and he asked how you were doing while making your purchases ? Now we run into some big box store, feel agitated, they actually plan that in the design of the store I believe, and we are lucky if we see someone we know there. Its all very cold and unfriendly.
There is no reward for going to such a store, no ambiance and its not staffed with your neighbors.
We no longer walk to the "drug store" or the butcher, bakery or hair stylist. We get in our gas eating metal and drive to where we want to go. Its all so impersonal.
When I was a kid, my neighbors all knew me and if I misbehaved, someone would surely see me and call my parents. Did you know the number one crime deterrent is having neighbors know one another ?
We have built "developments" to live in, big houses all looking the same, 5 designs offered, but with little difference in them. Garage out front, sticking out like some giant snoot, screaming at the world, "yes, the car is the most important part of our life" We offer a view of the cars home before our front door. There is no corner store with penny candy that draws folks to one destination where we can all get to know the children of the community and watch out for them.
We live in fear, we live in our cars, we live without knowing our neighbors.
Just think back, if you are 50 ish or more. Remember mothers walking babies to the store, the neighbors might be outside working in the yard, or hanging clothes, maybe even beating the rug against the fence. The neighbors would stop and look at the new baby, the babies name became known, an interest in the wee ones life began. Such a simple thing, but life changing.
When I was a child I would walk to the same corner store my cousins walked to, the same one my parents walked to as kids. My parents went there as adults to buy a small needed item. The owner knew our entire family...knew if someone was sick, asked about how this one or that one was doing. There was a reward for going to the store, friendship.
It was the same at the drug store, the barbers, the bakery and the small A&P market at the end of our street. When I walked to the store as a child I knew the name of the family in every house along the way. I know the names of the man across the street and the names of each family member to the north of us, to the south of us, the folks are just now beginning to wave back after living there for over a year. Its my fault in part, when they moved in I judged them as rather unfriendly and gave them space. They may just be shy.
We are lonely as a nation, the statistics show that, and the facts don't lie. We sooth our loneliness with over eating, with over shopping, and over collecting.
There are a few areas of the US that are working to revive the idea of neighborhoods that work.
We will not always be having fuel to burn at the rate and price we are now enjoying. A long commute to work, school and shopping will have to be looked at with different eyes.
We may just have to bring back the corner store, the local market, the butcher and baker and candlestick maker. That's not a loss, it may just bring us back to the part of the "good old days" that were good. Neighborliness and a sense of belonging to a community. Instead of hopping in the car in the evening for some shopping, we may just sit out on the porch, which used to be the snoot looking garage and have some tea, the neighbors might stop to say hello and you offer them some tea and a chair. The evening is suddenly full of laughing, or listening.
The chart shows that we are spending way too much time roaming around huge shopping areas.


neighbor said...

I've enjoyed your posts lately Patty (not that I ever didn't, but you know what I mean...:-) ).

This reminds me of the time I've spent in my husband's old neighborhood. In spite of the reconstruction and "development" that characterizes China these days (street widenings and building demolitions galore), we'd happen across little corner shops that were still hanging in there.

I remember in particular a little corner book stall that sold newspapers and paperbacks - not much of a shop at all, literally a corner "stand." D. and I walked by and a little old lady tottered out, calling him by his childhood nickname, "is that you? It's been so long!" as he'd been in the US for about 10 years by then. And when she saw me, his foreign wife, she shook my hand so enthusiastically, telling me she'd known D. since he was "this high."

In 2003 I lived for a year around the corner from his parents, in the same neighborhood, and many old people recognized me as Teacher Y's daughter-in-law even though my father-in-law had been retired for 20+ years. I felt connected to that neighborhood and tried to imagine what it had been like in the 1960s when, instead of tall apartment blocks, there had actually been woods, and a creek running through - which when they excavated to build over it (forcing the creek underground), kids from the area found coins from previous dynasties... Now it's a bustling big city, but those stories are still there.

My childhood, in the 1970s is typical american - suburban or city-based, lots of time in the car, tv was limited by my peers' standards, but I'm still amazed at how much I watched then... I kind of shrink away when asked to tell childhood stories, I have so few.

Sunny said...

For us things are actually BETTER in that regard than when I was a child. Maybe because we moved around a lot when I was young and now we are staying put.

Our kids are totally tight with their cousins on both sides. I barely knew the names of mine.

There is also a sense of neighborhood and community in our part of town. We watch out for each other. There is more to it that that but it is hard to explain. Guess you'd have to live here.

I can NOT go into the grocery or the library etc. without running into several folks I know-a few of which work there.

I know what you mean though. I was thinking yesterday when I ran into one of these chain hair places for a quick trim that it it was a big mistake. They want your phone number for marketing and to look you up on the computer and all. No thanks. I'll stick with the mom and pop place that I've been frequenting for close to two decades. No fancy computers there and they still greet you by name when you walk in. This is the place where I forgot my money once and they said "Oh, just bring it next time." This is the kind of place I'd rather bring my business to. In fact, after 9/11 it was the CUSTOMERS coming in to check on the OWNERS (they are from Iran). Yeah, it is a little more out of the way but worth it in my book.

Amy said...

One aspect of this might be people's tolerance for social contact. I am extremely introverted and need a great deal of time to be by myself after being at work all day in order to recharge my batteries.

I'm polite to my neighbors but I don't really want to socialize with them - my husband and I are hermits, I guess!

Jessie said...

Unfortunately crime has also gone up since then, and its not always safe for the mommies to be walking their babies, and poor ol Mr Hopkins had to close his store because Walmart sold bananas for cheaper.

nancyr said...

Wow, do I remember "the corner store"!
We knew every family on the block, and the name of every kid.
I think you can still find some of that kind of closeness in brand new neighborhoods where everyone moves in about the same time. If someone moves into an established neighborhood now, it is much harder to make friends.

Debra said...

Actually, where I live (outside of Buffalo, NY) we still have many, many of the things you wrote were gone. Here, many people live out their whole lives in our town or area, along with the rest of their families... (some even in the same house for 70 years). Down the street we have a supermarket which has been in business for 75 years and is always like a blast from the past when you walk in... happy people laughing and hugging... All over our town, people hold doors open for you, even children do, too... Well, I could go on and on.

Back when I was first (out in CA) married 28 years ago, people were already saying the Good Old Days were dead, but I determined that in my home they'd be alive. And since then I've been careful to note everyplace 'out there' I have seen old-fashioned things going on and have rejoiced that, for me, these are the good old days, even now. I refuse to become negative and assume real life is what the newspaper claims it is. What matters most, is the way I view and treat real people--most of whom are the same as people have always been down through Time. Blessings, Debra

A New Year

It is a silent sort of morning, sitting next to the wood stove in my rocker, watching the birds outside my windo...