the lost art of neighbourliness

Maybe it seems like this has nothing to do with food (I say that about a lot of my posts) but really, I think it is at the core of our current food and cultural crisis.

I had my first pop-by from a neighbour last week.

An elderly lady, Hilda. She has lived on the street for 30+ years, and turns out, her sister lived in my house before that. Over 60 years of memories of this place reside in that lady’s being.

She came by to scope me out, check out the changes to the house, observe my poor home-keeping skills. The place was a disaster; I was mortified.

But I invited her in for tea anyways. She’ll tell her husband what a mess it was . . . but that’s ok. I’ll get her next time.

We chatted for about an hour over tea while the rain belted down outside, her plastic rain bonnet resting on the table and reminding me so much of my Nana it hurt my heart.

We gossiped about the former owner of the house, she told me about the neighbours, the history of my farm. I learned about her family, personal tragedies, troubles and joys. She watched my boy in the particular way folks who have watched over many children do; calm and assessing, knowing.

Thinking about it after she left and in the days since, driving by community halls in my new rural neighbourhood, it occurred to me that these sorts of neighbourly interactions are endangered.

Those opportunities to sit down and chat at the kitchen table with people who aren’t family, who come from a different generation, have wisdom of years and heartbreak, successes and disappointments . . . There is a wealth of knowledge there that we are losing. A wealth of culture, community knowledge, a way of knowing how to be with people different from ourselves.

It is so easy now to find your very own particular tribe.

For me it is rat race drop-outs, stay-at-home mums and homesteaders with university educations and an interest in food security and scratch cooking. That’s a pretty narrow group.

And frankly, they aren’t real connections. (As much as I love you guys!) Chatting online is not a replacement for conversation over tea. You lose the nuance, the complexity of human interaction. There is something about that kind of interaction that is necessary to sustain a soul.

We tuck our elderly away in homes devoid of the laughter of children, send our kids to summer camps, live in adult-only development complexes. Our community centres are less and less focused on the general community, on a cross-pollination of families and ages, and more and more cater to specific classes and age groups. Although I’m not religious, I miss the ritual of heading into church as a child, shaking hands with the greeters like an adult, catching up, feeling warm and welcome and cared-for.

What other knowledge is lost when we lose these connections?

We lose the ability to know when our neighbours need help. We get less opportunity to practice the fine art of sharing; sharing food, sharing troubles, sharing joys, sharing recipes, sharing time. We lose the gift of caring for others, watching over others, being part of something outside ourselves, feeling a part of a community – a true community, one that is varied and joined together not by choice, per se, but by time and place and necessity.

She complained that the previous owner would chat outside on the lawn, but that he never came in for coffee. I could tell that offended her. We have forgotten the fine art of give and take, of reciprocity, of interdependence.

We all like to think of ourselves as independent, autonomous beings and we project that self-view onto the world around us. We do not see ourselves as connected to the world outside our door that sustains us. That lack of connection is how we have allowed such a sorry state of affairs when it comes to what we eat. If we cannot break bread with our neighbours, if we don’t know the names of the people on the street where we live, how on earth can we ever expect to know our food? We cannot fix one without fixing the other.

As for me, I have to go bake some banana bread to take for coffee at Hilda’s.

11 thoughts on “the lost art of neighbourliness

  1. emjayandthem

    As I started to read this, the first thing I thought was that this neighbor has to be an older person and yes – she was. My experience is that the younger ones won’t bother. We know all of our older neighbors around us, they know who lived here before us, when the sewer system went in, you name it. Most are the original home-owners. The younger ones – we’ve never met. I, too, am saddened by the (sometime) lack of community but have learned that I can keep it going by reaching out as well. Great post!

  2. the food fighters

    When my family moved into my grandparents’ old home, I suddenly was surrounded by neighbors I’d known since I was a child (and many who knew my father as a child). I had to adjust to a lot of neighborliness, which wasn’t always easy for me. Learning to be a good neighbor has been good for me, though–and I ‘m glad my kids see it as a normal part of daily life.

    1. The Slow Foods Mama Post author

      This made me laugh. I’m not used to a lot of neighbourliness either – I’ve always known my neighbours pretty much everywhere I’ve lived, but I’ve never lived in a home where the pop-by was normal. My housekeeping skills had better get a serious tune-up…

  3. mixedunmatched

    What a wonderful post and so true, I have lived in this road all my life yet I only know a handful of my neighbours and speak to them only occasionally. After reading this I really will try to make more of an effort.

  4. df

    I’ve lived everywhere from huge cities to small towns (where I am now), and have to say that the small town / rural mentality seems to win on the neighbourliness front, although it’s possible to have good neighbours anywhere. As imporant as those ties and connections are to me, I know that I’m guilty of often keeping to myself (or at least the four of us), and have to work at it. Having friends of all ages is so important too, or else it is a narrow world that we occupy. Absolutely lovely post!

  5. grammomsblog

    What a lovely post! It brought back alot of wonderful memories…….
    I’ve lived here for over 31 years and half the neighbours (5 or 10 households) have changed in the past 5 years. ALL of these new neighbours are from a nearby city: ‘retiring’ to the country. And they ALL lack ‘country style’ neighbourliness…..
    I think it’s a learned thing since I once came from the city too…..
    At one time, all the neighbours gathered for events several times a year and looked out for each other……… perhaps it’s time for ME to renew this ‘tradition’ with an ‘open house’ during the upcoming festive season.

    1. The Slow Foods Mama Post author

      I think it is a learned thing, you’re right. I’ve had a taste of it because my parents and my hubby are both from small towns, so although it isn’t normal for me, it feels familiar.

      It’s a shame we all don’t take more time – I think folks worry about other people being in their business (which no one likes) but the fact is, other people knowing your business has it’s upsides too. We forget that.

  6. Growing Up in the Garden

    You are so right. Growing up, we had a very neighborly neighborhood. I knew almost everyone, young and old. I often feel like it would be nice to inspire more neighborliness among the neighbors I have now, but my shyness gets in the way. I haven’t completely let go of the idea. I did get to meet a lot of neighbors when I went around letting them know of a big party we were going to have a little over a year ago. Great post! And, I do think it is connected to food.

    1. The Slow Foods Mama Post author

      Thanks, I’m glad it’s not my own nuttiness thinking it’s food related. (I think everything is related to food.) I’m not great with this whole putting myself out there thing either, but I’m trying.

      Living in the sticks with my hubby working in the city I feel a lot more secure knowing people close by. I’ve been really lucky and met a mum the next street over who also has a little boy and is a stay-at-home mum. I think we’re both pretty desperate for some company!! Hehe. Thankfully she is lovely – I feel so lucky to have found her!

  7. Pingback: neighbourliness part two : things that make me want to dance | The Slow Foods Mama

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