I refuse to put on my rosy-colored glasses to make the past sound so completely wonderful. Like many others, my childhood had its challenges and its special moments. Like my wife is fond of saying, the mind has a wonderful filter. It enhances the good things and makes us forget the tougher moments.
However, I know that one very important thing has changed. The unannounced visit is almost dead. It was alive and well when I was growing up in Lewisville, NC and when I spent my teenage years in Mount Airy, NC. When I moved to Nova Scotia and later to New Brunswick where we farmed for almost ten years, you could count on people dropping by to chat just when you were the busiest.
There was no email, no Facebook, Twitter, or Tumblr. People got their community news by talking to each other. Certainly in Canada when we were farming, most people preferred face to face communication. Most people had party lines, and a party line spreads information faster than Twitter though the range of the party line information network is very limited.
The impromtu visit was alive and well when we lived in Halifax, Nova Scotia from 1984 through the summer of 1987. I can still remember, our good friends, Fred and Sharon, dropping by one evening with their three wonderful children. Our kids got along great with them so on the spur of the moment we ordered pizzas and it went off better than a planned party. Home pizza delivery was a revolution to our children and I will bet there is still no home delivery of pizza in Tay Creek where we farmed.
Our next move took us to Columbia, Maryland. I remember some very nice cookouts but I think most of them were planned just like every inch of Columbia where everything was neatly in its place except car dealerhships which were too messy to be tolerated.
When we headed down the valley and up the mountain to Roanoke, Virginia, in 1989, we got back into a neighborhood where we felt comfortable popping in on our neighbors. In fact we formed a loosely organized group that we called the over the hill bunch. It was easy to gather on one of the decks in the neighborhood, open a bottle of wine or some beers and discuss the day's events. Many nights we would sit on our deck overlooking downtown Roanoke and enjoy the company of good friends. We often argued over whose lawn was the best or how late our wives could sleep on a snowy day. The yard competition was fierce for a time as you can tell from my immaculate bluegrass yard. We all had children and most of them were fairly close in age. It was easy to find something to talk about on those warm evenings perched up on the mountain.
Eventually almost all of the group including us moved from the mountain. We are all spread across the country from Washington state to Florida, North Carolina, and South Carolina. My wife and I started spending most of our time on North Carolina's Crystal Coast in 2006.
We sold our home and bid adieu to Roanoke in 2012. We now live in a magical place and really love it here. I sometimes even feel that we are living a dream. There are some things we miss from Roanoke, but even more I miss those unplanned visits. The change that has taken place in our society in the last few years leaves me puzzled.
People rarely drop in for a visit these days. I know that people live very busy lives in 2014, but there is no busier life than that of a farmer during haying season in the northern reaches of cattle country. Somehow we found time to visit with friends and neighbors back in the seventies and eighties even when we knew that we were taking time from important chores.
Facebook which has replaced email for many people is no substitute for sitting face to face with friends. Though we do not have a dog like our wonderful Chester to take us on walks, I still walk a lot and feel fortunate to run into people from our community who are also out exercising themselves and their children. Most take the time to chat and share a little of their lives.
Over ten years ago when a friend to whom I never got to say goodbye died, I worried that we had gotten too busy to even email much less visit people. Then I made it my goal to close a few circles with friends before it was too late. We have done that and continued the effort with a trip back to Canada in the fall of 2012. It gave us a chance to visit with people that we had not seen in almost thirty years. Unfortunately we were chased down the east coast by Hurricane Sandy but we still got to see our friends, George and Alberta along with Kerry and Brenda, another set of wonderful friends. The trip inspired me to write a book about the changes I saw in Canada.
While I have thought about this problem of people withdrawing from human contact and the changes like the heat pump that might have something to do with it, I have no real answers. Some people have reacted to the modern world by enclosing themselves in a virtual fortress. They come home, open the garage door, close it, and rarely come outside even if they have children. I have one neighbor who can walk within ten feet of you and pretend that you are not even there. Could it be our age? Is it the smartphones that distract people from human contact? It is hard to say, but I doubt it.
I think it goes beyond any of that. My guess is that some people no longer feel comfortable sharing anything with others. They are afraid of the real world and live in highly controlled world that minimizes contact with others especially interactions that might be unpredictable. My suspicion is the most isolated among us are not the people who use Facebook the most, but the people who will not even share on Facebook. My guess is that the worst offenders are those who surround themselves with toys that they hardly ever use. Buying something has become a poor substitute for human contact.
We have created a society that enables people to live and survive without interacting with the people who live close by. You can even order your groceries and have them delivered. If we can just get telemedicine ramped up, people can also go to the doctor virtually. Amazon will deliver anything you need to your doorstep and you will not even have to talk to the delivery person. Whatever the reason, it is a shame people are withdrawing from human contact. People who seek withdrawal from human contact not any new technology are likely the root cause of the death of the impromtu visit. When you needed your neighbors to survive, you probably took the time to get to know them and welcomed their visits.
There might be no real answers, but I feel that the community where we live today along North Carolina's Southern Outer Banks still values human interaction. The people at the produce markets and fish markets still know our names and sometimes we even get a hug when we visit.
Recently I dropped into Boats Inc in Morehead City to buy a filter and pet the Labradors, Mya and Sallie. Chris, the guy the ladies let pretend to run the place, still remembers my first name and it is probably been a year since I have been there. His daughter Carole, who knows more about boats that anyone I know, still remembers my boat and gave me advice that could come only from someone who is really trying to help not just sell you something. It is refreshing to live in world where you are not just an anonymous face. Life is a lot easier when you can trust some people and they trust you in return.
Our spot on the White Oak river by the oyster rocks remains a place where most people will remember your name, look at your face, and some will even drop in to visit. Visit soon before the modern world completely changes us too.