Community of the Past

 “To create organs for neighborly help and initiative, to meet face to face for personal assessment and vivid discussion, to take part in communal celebrations, not in vast anonymous masses, but in a circle of identifiable faces and persons, all these survivals of aboriginal village life are still necessary.  They keep intact the close chain of sympathetic responses in which man first securely established himself as irrevocably human:  these friendly eyes are the indispensable mirror in which the self beholds its own image.”   Lewis Mumford

Looking back from my current window of life, I remember growing up in a rural community on nearly an acre of woods and fields.  Most of the homes were built in the early 1900s, as once these homes were considered beach cabins of the early Seattle settlers, so there was distance between neighbors’ homes. What I remember best about my childhood is that the neighbors supported one another and helped out when someone needed assistance. Plus, at Christmas, the neighbors would all come by to celebrate at our home.  Or as a small child when I ended up outside alone in the middle of the night, a neighbor heard my cries and screams, only to dress to come rescue me and put me back to bed.  Our elderly neighbor we called, Aunt Lyda and Uncle Jim, even though they were of no relation… they just were dear people we loved and treated as family.

One neighbor was a nurse so she came down to our house to give my brother and me our shots.  Ok, so I didn’t appreciate the shots, as she kept saying, “Relax Gwynn, I can’t shoot the needle into your bottom.”  However, my mom appreciated not having to cart my brother and me the long way to the doctor’s office for our check-ups.  Heck, in “those days” our doctor even came to our house.  We all looked out for one another.

Now-a-days with the growth of towns and the attempt to stop suburban growth, more and more developments of homes have mushroomed up all over the United States replacing many of the “beach communities” from the “old days” when we had room to romp around between homes.  To quantify profit, builders learned to maximize the use of the land.  Plus, again to simplify life and increase profit they built only two or three different plans of homes, with similar colors.  Now the homes look like a giant came along with a cookie-cutter making identical homes.  I’m surprised people don’t absent-mindedly walk into the wrong home like accidentally climbing into the wrong car.  “Hi, Honey, I’m home!  Oh, you aren’t my wife… oops!”

Of course now, people can practically hear the conversations in the home next door as the homes are lined up like a row of dominos.  The views of nature that we once enjoyed now consist of looking into your neighbor’s house, so they have to draw their blinds. Once I remember coming downstairs in my bathrobe as I had just awakened early one morning.  My husband had left for his walk, but had opened all our blinds.  As I walked through the living room toward the kitchen for my cup of tea, another neighbor out for his morning walk could see clear through my house, witnessed me in my bathrobe, so he quickly changed directions and headed back toward his home.  Towns that once had a “community feel” no longer enjoy that familiar feeling because of this overbearing closeness.  We look for privacy in our lives. We no longer look at ways to work together to help one another.  Instead there is the constant animosity in developments.  People are more than likely to “flip-off” their neighbor when they walk out the front door rather than to wave at them to say “hi” or stop to chat.

For convenience sake we dramatically have changed the style of our lives and with that we have cut ourselves off from the support and love of our neighbors. I truly hope that we can change our way of life and thinking, but as I see more apartments and condos appear I fear that we will become less willing to create a cooperative environment.

A few years ago I moved out to a slightly rural area, very similar to the style of neighborhood where I grew up.  Here, neighbors watch out for one another and help one another.  My neighbors even bring us gifts of garden vegetables, pumpkin bread, and cookies.  I feel like I have come home!



About Gwynn Rogers

After 20 years of sales and marketing experience in the fields of real estate, high tech, and corporate travel, Gwynn has moved on to the career of “Grandma.” When not teaching her granddaughters an extensive vocabulary of “alley-oop-boop, ups-a-daisy, cowabunga or bummer”, Gwynn can be found hunting for mentors for the Kitsap Youth Mentoring Consortium, or chasing her fantasies on her treadmill. Gwynn currently freelances for magazines.
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17 Responses to Community of the Past

  1. Avatar Beatrice Hale says:

    Nice one! Gwynn, I can understand that, having grown up in a small fishing community.
    We did look out for one another indeed, but there were times when we drew back – I remember my grandmother forbidding my grandfather to ‘knock on the ceiling’ when he heard our upstairs neighbours bellowing – and perhaps more – at their daughter/sister with learning difficulties. To his credit, my grandfather continued to show his disapproval of their behaviour. But my grandmother, home all day, had to keep friendly with the neighbours.
    And I remember great discussions which would have graced the UN or at least the UK parliament on ‘whose turn to do the stairs’. We lived in a tenement building of six or maybe eight flats, I can’t remember. Two flats to each landing. And the stairs had to be cleaned every week. And having to leave the big ‘copper’ in the laundry in the best possible condition. And the rivalries as to who would get the washing out first, and who had the cleanest wash. I can laugh now, but it living there was a serious business.

    • Avatar Gwynn Rogers says:

      Good grief Beatrice, my blog did not tell me that you had commented. I wonder what the heck is going on with it. So sorry for my slow response to you. Communities have so changed over the years. With the condos, apartments, townhouses, and zero-lot-line homes cropping up here in the states, maybe we are becoming more like what you experienced growing up in the UK. People are becoming more short-tempered.

      I am glad that your grandfather disapproved of the way the upstairs family treated their daughter. It is so sad to me that people treat their children badly. Now, with more people out there, we are hearing of more and more abuse. I hate hearing these stories.

  2. Avatar Susan Scott says:

    Thoughtful post Gwynn. Here in South Africa, developments are like mushrooms, creeping and spreading with haste over the landscape. We call them townhouses. I often wonder when I view these new and fancy townhouses when driving past, some more so than others in their smartness, how people can live in such close proximity, yet paradoxically, cut off from others.
    But, I am sure that many developments are tastefully done, no matter how small or close to the neighbours, and take into account the need for privacy. It is sad though when the sky line can be seen no longer. Lucky you re pumpkin bread and cookies!!!!! Oh yes, and healthy veg.
    Garden of Eden Blog

    • Avatar Gwynn Rogers says:

      Yes, we too have townhomes, plus homes we (those in the real estate industry) call zero-lot-line, as they are homes stacked up right within a very few feet of one another. In fact, one development, the homes are so close, that they are considered a fire hazard as the siding is made of vinyl. If one home goes up in flames they will all go POOF! in a matter of minutes. Plus, the developer didn’t think about creating alternative routes in and out of the sub-division… only one way. The loss of life could be dramatic should something go wrong in the development.

      Plus the battles about how a development is supposed to look become horrendous. We even had neighbors suing one another over cat poop, as the neighbor’s cat was pooping in the other neighbor’s yard.

      Now, even countries are having difficulty getting along with the bombing of that jet-liner. Why is it so hard to get along with other people? No man is an island… we are supposed to work together to become a community. Be kind to one another.

      Thanks for commenting, Susan. And yes, I LOVE the fresh romaine and zucchini. The zucchini makes excellent chocolate zucchini bread too! 😉

  3. Great post, Gwynn, and good point: we look for privacy at the expense of togetherness. In E. Europe, where I grew up, we lived in communities most people never moved out of. Generations upon generations, sometimes living in the same house (different levels). Talk about closeness. There, one grows up hoping for some privacy one day. 🙂

    In SoCal, where I live, people are too harried and stressed out to worry much about a sense of community (unfortunately). Those with young kids tried to, mostly for the sake of their children. I’ve lived on the same street for ten years and there are a couple of houses whose occupants I barely know. Sad … Areas that were orchards years ago, are now crowded with apartments, condos and townhouses. We’re running out of room, I guess. There’s no much open country elsewhere, yet we live on top of one another like puppy dogs. One day, if I make it that far, I’d like to move back by the beach.

    • Sylvia, I remember driving down the 405 freeway through Orange County in the ’60s and early ’70s through nothing but orange groves.

    • Avatar Gwynn Rogers says:

      Hi Silvia. I neglected to add that I grew up in the home my grandparents had lived in. Mom nursed her mother while grandma was dying of cancer. I was born shortly before grandma died, so I never knew her. Plus, grandpa died shortly afterward.

      In those days we grew up in family homes with family possessions. Now, everything is disposable… everyone runs out to buy something new rather than to value family possessions.

      My family moved to Upland in 1960 and then to Hermosa in 1963. When we went to Disneyland, orange, lemon, and avocado groves surrounded the area. Plus Irvine was all groves, with the exception of the few developments that the Irvine Company was starting to throw up. California has changed enormously since I lived there. I left Redondo in 1976 and have only been back three times in all of those years. I DON’T want to see Washington become like California… but slowly it is.

      My old neighborhood here in Washington… many of the neighbors of the old neighborhood are dying off. They have lived in the same house all of these years. I’m envious. So, in a limited way I can relate to your growing up in Romania. You had an interesting life! Thanks for stopping by!

  4. This morning I was sitting on my porch when a man walked up the brick sidewalk and spoke to my neighbors who were outside scraping and painting their house. He said he grew up in a house just a few doors up, on the corner, in the ’50s and ’60s, and proceeded to tell us stories of the neighborhood of his childhood. One funny story: As a kid he recorded the fire siren from the firehouse a block over. Then he put his big speakers up to the window and blasted the recording. His dad, a fireman, shot out of the house and raced to the firehouse. While the kid thought this hilarious, his dad, as you might imagine, did not. My next-door neighbor said, “How long was it before you could sit down again?”

    Yesterday, I met and enjoyed a long conversation with another town native who is not only a hospice nurse for people, but also for animals.

    Our three-story Victorian houses are but 20 feet apart, yet we respect each other’s privacy and quiet.

    I am so fortunate to live in this magical small town, where people who grew up together here are so open, warm and friendly to newcomers; where, indeed, we are mindful of preserving our environment, many of us — Delaware was the first state to enact the Coastal Zone Act, an evolving legacy: there are always loopholes.

    • Avatar Gwynn Rogers says:

      Like your neighborhood, my old neighborhood where I grew up, the people are now dying off. They have lived in their homes all of these years. The difference now is that the woods have dwindled down to barely nothing. There is still the slight “old time” feel, except where the McMansions have popped up.

      You are very lucky to be living in an established small town where there is no room for expansion… at least not in the downtown core.

      I loved the story about the kid who recorded the fire siren. I’m amazed he can sit down even ALL these years later! I’ll bet his dad was really angry! Thanks for sharing your stories of community too. They are a blessing!

  5. Avatar patgarcia says:

    Time has changed. Some how or another, we get caught up in a rat race and forget some of those vital things about life that you cannot buy with money. I know when I go back to the home of my birth, I am continually surprised at the Mom and Pop’s shops that no longer exist, or the restaurants that were popular when I was a child, where people got together after church, and there you would meet people from other churches. It was fun and it was informative. Nowadays, people tend to move around in their own little circles, and that is very sad. We don’t stretch and reach out anymore.

    Very nice article. I really enjoyed reading it.


    • Avatar Gwynn Rogers says:

      The corporate world has dramatically changed too. The employee and employer are no longer loyal to one another. People have forgotten how critical family life is and supporting the kids. Moms and dads are busy working day-in and day-out leaving the kids in daycare to be raised by a stranger. Sadly, the world has dramatically changed. We have forgotten our Value System and changed to greed.

      When you come home to visit the States, it will be interesting to hear what changes you see, and what you think of these changes.

      Thanks for commenting Pat!

  6. The more crowded the conditions, the less the occupants get along. They’ve even done experiments with rats and they react the same way. Worldwide overpopulation causes a considerable decline in quality of life, not to mention consumption of limited resources, excessive pollution, and destruction of animal habitat. Yet aside from China, no government even acknowledges overpopulation as a problem.

    • Avatar Gwynn Rogers says:

      I care about children and religion, however I definitely believe abortion is appropriate when people intend to use Welfare as their means of survival without any intention of bettering themselves. Plus, there are times that the parents don’t want children. I don’t like seeing children raised in abusive families. Plus, sadly we are piling people on top of one another. I want to protect our land and the environment… we desperately need to look at ways of preserving the world. It also would be wonderful if we knew how to be a community and to get along with one another. Thanks for stopping by.

      • Instead of more tax credits for more children the government could take the credits for the first two away if there were more than 2 and then start imposing excess child taxes beyond the third or fourth to discourage overly large families instead of our current system. And make welfare a one time thing, no more money for more kids. Even acknowledging that overpopulation as a problem would be a start.

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