Did you see that David Nelson who played the Dad on Ozzie and Harriet died yesterday? I was thinking about that tonight as I mused about community, preparing for this post.
I don’t think people thought a lot about community when I was growing up in the 50s. It seems like Ozzie and Harriet, Leave it to Beaver and Father Knows Best somewhat reflected the zeitgeist of the time. Oh yes, idealized, sanitized, and sexist as all get out – but a view into post-war culture in which the family was intact, you knew your neighbors, your extended family was nearby, you went to church on Sunday and the Dad worked at the same company for 40 years.
While the changes that roared through our culture in the 60s took the lid off all of that and exposed the parts that really DIDN’T work (like racism, sexism, homophobia, etc.) I’m not sure that our liberation movements realized that an unintended consequence was liberating us from a lot of traditional forms of community.
Don’t get me wrong! I’m not waxing nostalgic or railing against the changes in which I was an enthusiastic participant. There was a lot about the 50’s/60’s that I personally found stultifying and the changes that started blowing in the wind right around when Bob Dylan was singing that very lyric seemed to me a very needed breath of fresh air.
That said, I do think some of the traditional moorings got blown away – not only by progressive activists, but by corporations and government and good old-fashioned greed.
My paternal grandparents lived on a farm in the middle of nowhere in northwestern Iowa. Their nearest neighbor was a mile away. The population of their town, Doon, Iowa, 533 people in 2000, was probably more like 300 or 400 back then. And yet I don’t think my grandmother would have had to think long and hard about community or what to do when trouble came knocking. When it was haying time the men would go from farm to farm and work in teams – on George’s farm, then Elmer’s etc. The women-folk would be at the same farm – cooking, canning, etc. You knew who your tribe was and it was assumed you’d all pitch in if something needed doing, if someone needed help.
I think people still do that – but it seems to me that people now have to be a bit more creative, a bit more conscious in their creating of community. It seems to me that if one were shy, introverted or fearful that this could be a bit of a daunting task.
My dad worked at Johnson & Johnson for over 40 years. Me, I seem to be a contractor these days (not really by choice) and my gigs last a year if I’m lucky.
People always ask me when I moved here from the East Coast, knowing I have family out there. I didn’t move – they did! And not all to one place. And my brother is out in California.
So you create a family of choice and your Facebook friends make up for the fact that your work friends change and evaporate and rise out of the mist.
For me, the combination of Facebook, email, IM and text messages has been a true Godsend, keeping me connected to friends near and far. It’s a blessing my Grandma didn’t have and it’s enabled me to reconnect or connect with people with whom I’d otherwise not have a connection. It’s also enabled a group of us to provide support for our friend with cancer with the logistics made ever so much easier.
I’m personally looking to have the best of both. I still want my co-housing community and whilst I don’t envision the menfolk (or ANY folks) to be doing much haying, I DO envision canning parties and cooking together and gossiping and laughing as I know my Grandma did. And then going back to my own space and writing y’all in my blog, posting to Facebook, or IM-ing with a friend 5 states away.
What does community look like to you? In some ways my sisters both have communities that don’t look all that different from our parents did. Me, not so much. So I get there’s a spectrum out there. How do you find YOUR tribe? is it working for you?