I was thinking when I woke up this morning, while trying not to think about what may or may not happen south of the border today, November 3 as I sit at my desk to write, thinking about community and what it means now as compared to what it meant when I was a child.
In late spring/early summer my father would move his herd of Herefords from winter housing to summer pasture, down our long lane and across the River Road, through a barb-wire gate to fresh green grass. It was a big deal. I felt like my siblings and I were on the Ponderosa, my father the Crozier version of Ben Cartwright. My father would make some phone calls to organize a “posse” to move the cattle. Doug and Blair would show up on horseback, Rock and Stormy their faithful steeds. Aarne, Annie and Ralph would be poised at their side of the highway and Cleve, Julia and Don on their side to prevent any strays making a run for it. But more often than not, neighbours would just appear and park their cars and wave their arms, blocking off potential “off ramps” and held their ground as the herd moved up our lane and across the highway. The older cows knew the drill having done it before, the younger ones falling in behind the leaders. It was usually uneventful in terms of escapees, the cows following my father’s voice more than they were chased, but oh my goodness it was exciting. The cows were bawling as they ran, the spring calves leaping and bounding as though with springs on their feet. There were whistles and shouts and sometimes the honking of horns and it was an utterly glorious chaos.
The sense I had as a child was being part of a collective, a group of nondescript neighbours who would step up at any chance to lend a hand to each other when the need arose, often without plea or invitation. I remember the feeling of excitement, my stomach bubbling, my hands clutched in front of me to hold me together. I remember feeling immense pride for my father, his voice calming and steadying his cows, and the comfort that came from the feeling of belonging, the sense of community.
People went for drives on Sundays, dropping in to see friends when I was a kid. This wasn’t a choreographed event, but rather an impulse – pile into the car and see where you end up. Winter Sunday afternoons were meant for tobogganing and our hill was often covered with friends, with dogs running up and down, with children of every size. My mother would often bake a cake on Saturday, and the cake sat in the fridge at the ready in case someone “dropped in” and it was a “hands off” sort of thing, until further notice. Though Saturday was house-cleaning day, I don’t think it mattered if things were out of order if someone dropped by on Sunday. We didn’t fret or fuss to make the house look as though no one lived in it, ready for a photo shoot for Better Homes and Gardens. Life was cluttered and sometimes messy and you made the best of it. Sometimes the storm windows weren’t taken off until summer was in full swing. The grass got cut when someone had time, when we were little, and more regularly when we, the children were responsible. Mud behaved like hitchhikers, following us indoors without invitation, horsehair clung to every piece of clothing my sister and I had, and dust was a living breathing dragon. My mother may have worried about appearances, but if she did, she never let on.
No one drops in anymore, not without announcement or invitation. We’re all too busy, too afraid of interfering, of interrupting, or inconveniencing. I wouldn’t think of doing the “pop in”, as Jerry Seinfeld called it, to any of my friends without calling first. Why is that? What has changed? Is it the telephone, the internet? Is it that we now care more about what we look like than who we are? I hope not.