Friday, January 17, 2014

Connections, Blog Crossings, Neighbourhoods. . .

An odd little thing to miss, perhaps, but something that we'll never have on our little island is the sound of a car pulling into our driveway. We've been here for almost 20 years now, so that sound is a fading echo of a memory -- there are cars and trucks on the island, although they're outnumbered by golf carts (legally licensed and insured, by special provincial dispensation just for our insular circumstances). . . and there are roads, although they're dirts roads rather than paved. But we have no driveway, and if someone drops in for a surprise visit, they'll just unlatch the gate and walk our curving pathway up to the front door and knock.

I used to love the particular combination of sounds: a decelerating engine and, as Lucinda Williams sings, "Car wheels on a gravel road," even if the gravel only spanned twenty driveway feet and ended on a concrete pad. I especially loved it, I think, when being home with four children meant rather limited socializing with adults. For seven of those years, we lived in a relatively small (pop.17,000) northern town. On moving there from the city, we were taken aback somewhat the first few times we heard a car turn into our driveway. Sometimes we'd scramble to tidy up a bit, to finally get dressed after a Saturday morning sleep-in, before we answered the door to find out whose unrecognized car was parked outside. Sometimes, if the kids recognized the car, we had no time to get organized inside before the four-year-old had rushed outside to greet a favourite friend's mom, just stopping by to see if ours could spend the afternoon with hers. Sometimes, we'd recognize the car and groan, wondering if there was any way we could wait out the knocking, pretending we weren't home.

But we quickly grew to love the local custom, and soon enough, if we were driving across town and spied signs that testified to a friend being home, we'd do the same thing. I'd run up to a girlfriend's door with a bunch of daffodils I'd grabbed while grocery shopping -- if she was up to offering me a cup of tea, I'd unload the kids from the car, promising to be out of the way by naptime. Often, I'd take someone's little one home with me, making both moms' afternoons easier. I'll have to ask my daughters how play dates get arranged these days, in the city. I suspect it's a bit more complicated than I remember.

Anyway, I thought of that small pleasure of having a surprise, drop-in visitor, the kind of community and the pace of a lifestyle that allowed for such expansive interruptions in a daily schedule, all those thoughts flashed through my head the other day when I read Moonboots' post. I've been following her blog for perhaps a year now. I love its honest, fragmentary, fresh approach to capturing random slices of life. She's often self-deprecating, just finding her writing voice, feeling her way through life in stuttering bursts, but there will often be a truth I recognize set out baldly. Her life is very different from my own, but there's a self-reflexiveness in her posts that is very similar to my own.

Anyway, last weekend, expecting a quiet Sunday with her husband feeling unwell, Moonboots was instead interrupted by a number of unexpected calls and texts and knocks on the door. I'm not sure where in England her neighbourhood is, but it's clearly a neighbourhood where folks count on each other for support. Sunday, she and her husband checked on a neighbour whose husband needed the ambulance called, and later another neighbour stopped by, unannounced, to ask them what the news was on the man who'd been transported to hospital. And a bit later, the invalid's wife knocked on the door to let them know her husband had been released and they were both on their way home.

Moonboots speculates:  I think it is an older generation thing, the thing about calling round. We rarely call in on people and would not dream of 'knocking and entering.' We have been told by a number of our neighours just to knock and call in, especially the older ones.
I wonder if it's just generational or if it's also a difference between types of community. I wonder if it still happens in the small town we were lucky enough to experience it in.

And then, just as I was reading Moonboots' post and reminiscing about drop-in visitors and wondering if those days were gone, I came across a lovely instance of IRL (physical) neighbourhoods intersecting with those we form in the immensity of the Web. I've been waiting eagerly for Elizabeth Davis to publish the pattern for a gorgeous sweater she's calling "Chelsea Morning" (can't you hear Joni's voice?). Finally, she posted the announcement that the pattern's ready for purchase, and the first commenter, someone called Suzanne, chirped happily,  Hi, Elizabeth! I am going to buy the pattern so my sister can make me the sweater. Can I just run the money over instead of going through ravelry?

I'm not sure why, but somehow it just made me inordinately happy to imagine Suzanne running over to Elizabeth's house with a cheque or, more likely, just a Five and a One and handful of change. . . chatting a bit at the doorstep, and then Suzanne taking the printed .pdf home for her sister to begin a sweater. I'm very happy, of course, that I can buy the same pattern by clicking on a link and having the .pdf downloaded into my Ravelry library, but I'm so pleased to see the old way nestled up against the very new. Somehow, it makes me think I'm not quite obsolete yet, and the world doesn't change quite as rapidly as it sometimes seems it does.

So that was a meandering post, wasn't it? But I love finding unexpected connections, seeing the world shift just a tiny bit with my perspective. And I'm so grateful for having readers to imagine out there, patiently working their way through my words. Words that arrive, perhaps, like an unexpected visitor, the crunch of my car wheels on the gravel of your driveway . . . thanks for opening the door. . .

23 comments:

  1. Love your last paragraph! Always happy to have your blog posts in my reader!

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  2. I grew up mostly in suburban and semi-rural neighborhoods, where few of the married women worked, so there was always someone dropping by, or we'd walk around the corner so Mom could have coffee with a neighbor, while we played with their kids or played ball in the driveway and such. I think with the busyness of most of our lives today, "dropping in" feels like it could be such an imposition. When my mom was still alive and we'd go back to the Midwest to visit her, we'd all pile in the car and drop round to cousins' houses, or they'd drop by my Aunt's house where we were staying. There was always coffee, and usually pie or a sandwich offered. I think what feels missing now is a feeling of nearby community; we know a few of our neighbors enough to wave and say "how are you" but rarely see the inside of anyone's home.

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    1. My mom was so introverted and shy that we didn't do as much dropping in as my very extroverted father would have liked. Perhaps that's why I so embraced it during my SAHM years, which were spent in a place where that practice worked. But you're right, now I would feel as if I were imposing on precious down-time, family or spouse time. . . .

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  3. When we lived in Germany there was a lot of dropping-in and a lot of visiting back and forth. Perhaps it was because we all had small children and things were much as you've described from your days as a young mum. Nowadays I am horrified at the sound of unexpected tires on the gravel. The Great Dane always wants to pave the drive but I like the gravel for the warning it offers. Anti-social? Not at all. I just treasure the sanctuary of my home.

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    1. Too funny! I wonder if I'd be just as horrified now at that sound I feel nostalgic for. . . it's true that I really treasure my quiet time on my own . . .

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  4. When our children were young, drop-in company was not uncommon. And very welcome. Now, no one drops by unexpectedly and if they do, I'm not as comfortable as I once was. Perhaps a lack of practice?

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    1. I know that now I have more "social" in my life (much of it through my work) that I sometimes feel I can manage, whereas when my children were young, I craved adult company. There are still a few people I'd be absolutely delighted to have drop by, but it's now a very short list. . . ;-)

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  5. When my girls were younger, i did tutoring at my house at night. Since i saw one after the other, they were used to just knock and come in. Quite often the rest of family would go in the livingroom to find a student sitting on the couch. Growing up in a small village, nobody lcked their doors so even living in a big city, i never lock my doors. I love that people feel confortable to just knock and come in. So far, no stangers have come to visit.

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    1. A new commenter -- thanks and welcome! This reminds me of life on our little island where door-locking has become a habit only very recently and only if we're away for a while. . . Of course, our protective Golden Retriever might have helped me get used to this habit . . .

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  6. I love your writing on this theme. Thank you for your very kind comments. It is really appreciated. It was such a lovely surpise this morning to drop onto your page and see 'moonboots' mentioned.

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  7. I wonder if it is more a community norm than generational. When I moved to Northern Ontario 40+ years ago from the US, I brought that 'drop in' expectation with me, but noticed my new friends (even though we were in our early 20s) would not do it. But if we said, "Would you like to come over around 7?", they would visit readily. And when I lived in Toronto for 30 years, not done either, except if you knocked on a neighbour's door to borrow something.

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    1. I wonder the same thing, although perhaps a bit of both. Glad to hear that you still had the habit of knocking on a neighbour's door to borrow something when you were in Toronto. Has it survived the move to Montreal, that practice?

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  8. When my daughter was young, all the mums who stayed at home spent a part of each day together because we were all outside watching our kids play. Often as not, someone would bring sandwiches and juice out and we would share a lunch. i think in rural communities where the one car family was the norm, we had a greater sense of community.

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    1. Yes, I had that experience as well, in that same small community I spoke of. I do see healthy signs of close communities in the city neighbourhoods my daughters are raising children in. But the visiting is more or as likely to happen at the community centre or the coffee shop down the block, it seems, or at the park. . . .

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  9. One of the things my life has lost is dropping in. When my children were young it was a vital part of the day. Now I live too far off the beaten track for it to happen naturally although I suspect it still does in the villages around here. I sort of miss it.

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    1. Yes, much of the difference for me is in geography -- my non-island friends simply can't "just drop by." I sort of miss it too, with reservations

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  10. Yes, my parents would happily drop in on someone if they were passing and, to my mother's resigned sighs, my father would take along the address book if we were travelling, recall that old so and so lived somewhere hereabouts and head for a phone box to ring them up and invite us all to a cup of tea. Not mean ness on his part, as he is the most generous of men, he would genuinely want to catch up with the old friend.

    I'm wondering if phoning for a chat is going the way of dropping in? With pretty much everyone with an email account nowadays and pretty much everyone living over busy lives, I find myself reluctant to phone in case it's a bad time - they're in the middle of a meal or the middle of a rare moment of peace and quiet or the middle of some absorbing task or basically in the middle of anything other than being about to be delighted to hear the phone ring. Are we going to lose the power of social speech?

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    1. Oh yes, my dad was much the same -- I'd hesitate to tell him we'd been somewhere, knowing that he'd be disappointed I hadn't looked up some friend he was sure I'd met or a cousin several times removed. . .
      As for the power of social speech, I think it's time for me to organize another of my Friday drop-ins. . . ;-)

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  11. So many great responses here, and I hope to be able to reply to each individually. As you'll see in my next post, though, I've injured my shoulder and am going to try to hold off on too much keyboarding until I know what I'm dealing with and what's the best approach to get healing. But I hope the conversation carries on without me -- I love the way it's developing and the appreciation of past practices but not at the risk of nostalgia -- we all seem aware that although we might have enjoyed it at the time, we're not sure what we'd think of being dropped in on now. It's very clear our social practices have changed and are changing more. And Pale Blue, yes, I think the phone chat might be on the way out as well -- it's certainly rare in my life, yet was once a mainstay. . .

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  12. We've always lived in very urban areas - no such thing as driveways. But we've also always had an open house and because I've worked largely from home since having Kid 2, people have learned that dropping by is fine. I've always got a cake in the tin, and usually (although less so the last couple of years) time to stop for a cup of tea and a chat. My best friends, one of whom lives about an hour's drive away, always drop in when they're in the area. And we also have the sort of neighbourhood where we're in and out of each other's houses frequently ... My in-laws also stop by often; although it sometimes bugs me (when I'm working, which my MIL simply doesn't understand), I remind myself that it's mostly a good thing!

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    1. I love this! An urban neighbourhood that continues the tradition of the drop-in -- and of course, you would always have a cake in the tin. I was the same way when my kids were the ages of yours (although I doubt my baking was as delicious as yours!) -- I'm trying to bring a bit more casual visiting as I do miss it.

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I'd love to hear your response to my post. Agree, disagree, even go off on a tangent, I love to know you're out there, readers. Let's chat, shall we? I apologize, though, for the temporary necessity of the Word Verification -- spam comments have been tiresomely numerous lately, and I'm hoping to break that pattern.

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