The lost art of being neighborly

By DAVID GUSTAFSON,

Chinet, the paper plate manufacturer, struck gold recently with their latest television commercial entitled “Rediscovering the lost art of getting together.”

The commercial begins with a young woman making her way through a museum featuring several “lost art” exhibits including families gathered around the dinner table, neighbors at a neighborhood block party, and friends dropping in on one another unexpectedly.

The ominous voiceover says it all:

“There was a time that being social drove people to houses – not home pages. When doorbells rang more frequently than cell phones. When entire neighborhoods found time to be more neighborly.”

As you would expect, the television commercial strikes a chord with many people who are my age and older.  To younger generations, it’s somewhat of a novelty - a representational relic of days gone by.

Of course, I remember life before the Internet, cell phones, and Facebook. Heck, growing up in northeast Oklahoma I had friends who still had a shared “party line” with their neighbors.

As a child, it wasn’t uncommon for our family to jump in the car and drive to someone’s house just to say hello.

If they weren’t home, we’d simply drive to the next house until we found someone to visit.

Sometimes, we’d walk down the alley behind our house to a neighboring backyard to do the same.

My parents rarely called in advance and I can’t ever remember a time being turned away or referred to as rude or inconsiderate.

A glass of tea or a cup of coffee was always offered.

 In the summertime, kids guzzled Kool-Aid by the gallons and gobbled up homemade ice cream by the bowlfuls.

That’s just how things worked.

People were genuinely happy to see one another and they were more happy to share the seemingly mundane tales of life since the last time they saw each other.

As the Chinet commercial alludes, those types of “drop in” visits are almost a thing of the past.

The convenience of texting, emails, and the raging popularity of social networks like Facebook and Twitter have all but eliminated the need for face-to-face visits.

These days, on the rare occasion if/when I hear a knock on our door, my first instinct is that something must be wrong.

So imagine our surprise (and delight) Sunday afternoon, when one of our neighbors literally walked down the street just to introduce themselves.

After visiting about the neighborhood and bragging on the many things that make this community so grand, we exchanged phone numbers and made tentative plans to get together soon for tea.

Best part? We didn’t even bring up the thought of connecting on social media.

Long before there was Internet, the equivelant of Facebook was the weekly column that appeared in the local newspaper written by a blue-haired correspondant whose job was to share the news – and gossip – of the local community.

Even then, the carefully-chosen words of women named Edith or Wanda or Madge weren’t enough to keep us at home.

We wanted to hear first-hand about the neighbor’s new job or taste how successful the new strawberry homemade ice cream recipe from the church cookbook turned out.

We wanted to see Junior’s new baseball trophy that he received for winning, (not just participating in) the annual Masonic Lodge tournament.

We wanted to say hello. Shake a hand. Hug a neck.

Nowadays, it seems like those types of visits are few and far between.

As a result, my kids only know how to communicate using 160-character snippets. 

Listening to them talk on the telephone is painful. In person it’s even worse. That’s because gone with the drop-in visits is much of the eloquence that is developed and relayed with honing the art of in-person storytelling.

Fortunately, for those of us blessed enough to live here in the south, time moves slower than it does elsewhere. That means we just might get to enjoy the Lost Art of Getting Together for a bit longer than our friends north of the Mason-Dixon line and west of the Mississippi River.

My friend, Tom Skinner, sang a song about this sort of thing on the title track from his 1997 album, “Times Have Changed.”

 

This modern world,

will keep you on your toes.

It moves so fast, it goes so slow.

Everyday is a brand new game.

But you know the main things?

They remain the same.

 

Children need a helping hand;

someone they trust to understand.

The earth still needs the sun and rain,

but you know the main things?

They remain the same.

 

Times have changed, but not that much.

A man still needs a woman’s touch.

We all need some kind of home.

No matter how far we may roam.

 

Written by the late Bob Childers with Stephanie Brown, the song effectively walks me away from the ledge every time I hear it.

It reminds me that perhaps all is not lost as we (or I) sometimes think it is.

Maybe it just takes a little more effort than we’re used to giving.

After all, friends will always be friends.

Family will always be family.

Neighbors will always be neighbors.

And despite how far we “roam” because of modern conveniences like the Internet, Facebook, smart phones, and the like, the main things really do remain the same.

Even if it takes something as mundane as paper plates to remind us.

 

Gustafson is the not-so-mild-mannered publisher of  The PineBelt NEWS and Signature Magazine.