A Long Time Ago
I was eight, maybe nine, back sixty years, give or take a Christmas, and the measles struck.
Knocked me on my butt for two weeks.
Not terribly unique, me being down sick as a kid. I was sick an ungodly amount back then, the flue, measles, bad colds, aches and pains and fevers followed me for the first twelve years of my life, truth be told. It got so bad one year they threatened to hold me back a grade at St. Patrick’s School. My parents and the principal, Sister Mary Catherine, had a long discussion about that topic, “Billy needs to catch up soon, work harder, make up for lost time, tote that barge and lift that barrel, “ and “you can count on it, Sister, he’ll get ‘er done, no worries about Billy.”
And I did get it done, but it was a struggle for a number of years, always playing catch-up, you know?
Anyway, this one year, I was down with the measles, one sick little buckaroo, Dad off at work and Mom home taking care of me, and on the second day of the measles there was a knock on the door.
Who Was It, Mom?
Mom answered, I could hear from the back bedroom, talked awhile with Mrs. Mertz, one of our neighbors, German lady with seven kids of her own, big-boned, strong personality, hard edges but a heart of gold, and soon after I heard the door close and Mom came into my bedroom holding five new comic books.
“Look what Mrs. Mertz brought for you, “ she said, and put them on the bed next to me, Batman, Superman, Archie, all of my favorites, all new issues.
The next day same scenario, door knocked upon, short conversation, Mom coming to me with a pot of chicken noodle soup, a gift from Mrs. Lerum, across the alley, young, pretty housewife, truth be told I had a crush on her, and the next day more comics from Sally Norlin across the street, and a couple puzzle books on Day Five from Mrs. Gordon.
When the going gets tough . . .
The Neighborhood Pipeline
Now I want you to stop and think about what happened during those two weeks, long ago, because I think, compared to current times, it was pretty remarkable. I came down with the measles. Phone calls were placed. Neighbors visited out in their yards. Within forty-eight hours those same neighbors were planning their gifts for the sick little boy on the corner of 18th and Monroe, and for the next week those gifts were delivered and phone calls were constantly made checking up on that little boy.
It was like that back in my neighborhood, back in the Fifties and Sixties. People watched out for each other. We had a Neighborhood Watch before Neighborhood Watches were a thing. I would walk a block to my buddy Karl’s house and six neighbors knew where I was. We would start up a game of ball on the empty lot, and kids would just appear because word spread through the grapevine. That’s just the way it was. We knew who was sick. We knew who was having a tough time at school. We knew when there were deaths and weddings and victories and defeats.
When I was twelve, and I remember this like it was yesterday, I won Most Valuable Player on my Little League baseball team, and I hadn’t been home an hour with that trophy when people were knocking on our door and calling us up to congratulate me. Truth! Adults taking time from their lives to congratulate a skinny twelve-year old on his victory – blew me away then, and blows me away more now.
Lend a Hand
Dad out front building a rockery; big dump truck dropping off a load of landscape rock; lift by hand, adjust positions to make them secure; back-breaking work, for sure, and on the second day two neighborhood fathers came over and started lifting rocks and fitting them in position. No one asked them to help. No way Dad would ever ask for help, but asking wasn’t necessary in that neighborhood at that time.
Mrs. Hoffman, widow, down with a broken ankle, neighbors taking turns mowing her lawn, bringing the mail to her daily, other moms bringing prepared meals to her, the Pipeline functioning quite nicely.
My dad dies, January of ’69, a veritable flood of well-wishes and caring hearts surround us, prop us up, and help us to function until we are ready to resume living.
That’s just the way it was, no romanticizing, no hype, just the facts, thank you very much.
And I Think of Today
Truth: I do not know the names of two of the five families on our block. I know three of the six across the street. They’ve all been there at least ten years and yet I’m clueless. I’ll wave when I see them outside, while I walk by with the dogs. I’ll offer small talk (how ya doing? Nice day, ‘eh? Hope it doesn’t rain), but actual conversation? An actual connection?
I’ve dropped the ball. That’s on me, and all the rationalization in the world can’t change that. I can hide behind my introverted nature all I want, but I was a shy introvert back in the 60’s, too, and that didn’t stop me from being part of the 18th Street Pipeline.
I’ve dropped the ball, plain and simple!
And you know what?
So have a lot of other people in this village of 350 million we call the United States.
I Think About Things
How did that happen? When did so many become isolated? Why did that happen? When did so many become so absorbed with their personal stuff that they lost the willingness and ability to bond with their neighbors?
Of course there are some of you who know your neighbors and have a good relationship with them, but I’ll bet you are a small percentage of the whole, and I wonder how it became the norm that we shrink our contact with those around us.
And I wonder if COVID-19 will change all that. I wonder if we all will begin to care more about each other. I wonder if we will all begin to see the wisdom in connections rather than isolation.
I really try to avoid sounding like an old man tenaciously holding on to the past. I really do. I don’t have a vendetta against the present. I rather like technology, and I embrace many of the changes which are happening. But I also think there were things which happened fifty, sixty, one-hundred years ago, which were important parts of our socialization and growth as a country, and I think they need to reappear.
I think we need each other. I think we need connections. We need to feel like we are part of a bigger picture. Man is a pack animal. We function at our peak performance, as a species, when we are bonding with others, and I’m not talking about the social media bonding everyone embraces. That’s surface connection, not real connection, much too easy and carries no risk at all, the perfect way for a convenience society to form bonds with the consistency of ready-mix cement with too much water added.
Can You Hear It?
There’s a knock on your door. Someone wants you to answer the knock. Someone wants to be allowed entry.
Will you answer? Will you embrace the opportunity? Will you become part of the new pipeline?
I have no answers to the questions I’ve raised, but I believe them to be important questions worth a ponder or two. I certainly not pushing any agenda. I’m just tossing noodles against the wall and waiting to see which of them stick.
Just random thoughts and observations from the front porch of a home many years in the rearview mirror.
2020 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)
“Helping human beings to spread their wings and fly.”
H.O.W. (Humanity One World)