June 21, 2003

Parentwatching

We have some nice neighbors (we'll call them "Karen" and "Brad") who live on the corner lot near out house. They used to be out in their yard every weekend and often on the weekday evenings working hard to keep it up. Aside from being consistently vigilant about lawn maintenance they were friendly and they enjoyed having breakfast out on their porch.

For the last year or so we noticed that we hadn't seen Karen much or at all. Usually, at least in the last decade or so, this would have been the source of much speculation on our part. Neighbors are always a source of interest. However, we must have been wrapped up with events in our own lives, since I don't remember having any conversations about this with my wife. In retrospect, we realized that the yard had not been tended with the usual fervor.

We learned why last weekend. A little one year old baby boy had been keeping her busy. We met him after his birthday party, which coincided with our youngest daughter's birthday. With the approach of summer and the maturing of their infant, they are out and about in their yard a bit more.

As I was preparing to take advantage of the brief clear weather today to get the lawn mowed, I saw Brad cleaning up the yard when Karen came out their side door, hands on her hips, stretching her back and squinting as she took in a deep breath that distinctly said "Thank god, the baby is taking a nap."

Posted by James at June 21, 2003 8:28 PM
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hmmm...this does say something about the way we live today. At least you do speak to your neighbors. We've lived in the same house for 35 years and barely know the names of some neighbors. We've had significant interaction with only one, while we've interacted with the others from time to time as demands warrant.

My point is - and it's not a judgment, just a point - that while we form communities still, I'm not sure we form them with our neighbors. We form them around families, at work, at school, and in a host of special interest rannging from church to soccer. And, we form comunities online, this being one. But our neighborhoods are not what they were in the 19th century and, I suspect, every century of human history before then.

At the risk of overstaying my welcome, I'd like to share this little piece of a young woman's diary from Saturday, January 8, 1853. She lived in South Danvers, now Peabody.

"We have had a great many callers today. before I had cleared away the dinenr dishes Pease Page called. Before she left, Susin Hannah Grant came, before she went Sophia [Robts] and little Mary. While chatting with the latter, a rap on the front door. Opened it and who should be there but our friend Parker Pillsbury. I was delighted to see him. He made but a short call however. Was on his way to the evening meeting. At the usual time commenced getting supper. Was interrupted by a call from Lucy A. C. Went again to my work, but soon heard mother calling me . . ."

The point is, without phones, movies, televisions, automobiles, etc - 19th Century, pre-war New England was a "Very Social Time." (That happens to be the title of a book by Karen Hansen from which I excerpted this quote.)

But what has really changed? Are we less social today? Or merely less social in our neighborhoods because we now have the means to know people and interact in so many other ways? And what does this change mean? For thousands of years the human race behaves one way - now some significant change has taken place - perhaps? (Again, apologies for the length of this comment. Your entry pushed a button ;-)

Posted by: Greg at June 22, 2003 6:40 AM

I barely knew most of my neighbors until I moved. During the yard sale, I met many of them for the first time. It's not that people were unfriendly - just that there wasn't much overlap of schedules. But I felt sad to be moving out just when I was getting to know all of those people.

Posted by: julie at June 22, 2003 8:51 PM

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