Looking Back

The neighborhood concept

By Mary Ellen Shaw

If you have a garden area that is close to the street you get to meet a lot of people while you work.

These people seem to fit into the category of “walkers”—dog walkers, fitness walkers and stroller pushers.

I am always happy when one of them stops to tell me that he or she enjoys seeing my garden come into bloom and change with the seasons. I have seen some people use their phone to take a picture of the colorful flowers. That is an unexpected surprise!

After awhile the people transition from just saying, “Hi, how are you?” to actual conversations. You learn their names, where they live and a little bit about their lives. This is a day and age where most people do not know the people who live on their street. They probably only know those who live next door or across the road. I think I have met just about everybody on my street over the years.

Looking back I realize how different it was in the neighborhoods of old. Even as a child I knew the names of everyone on our street as well as those who lived on the streets close by. People were outside more, especially young people. Neighbors visited with one another and kids were always eating lunch or dinner at a nearby house as well as staying overnight. There was a lot of neighborhood interaction.

Schools, playground, skating rinks, and grocery stores all had a neighborhood focus in the 50s.

There were six public elementary schools, as well as three Catholic elementary schools spread among the various neighborhoods. Most of us walked to school unless it was a really cold or snowy day. Our parents must have known the value of fresh air and exercise because we got plenty of it. Backpacks were not popular back then so books were carried in our arms. This was not a light load!

While browsing through the 1950 City of Rutland report I found ten playgrounds listed. Most of us could walk to more than one playground with our friends. Playground activities included both physical activity as well as arts and crafts. Contests taught us how to compete fairly. We also got to meet new friends … all in our neighborhood. At the end of the season, one big event for all the playgrounds was usually held at Rotary Field.

Neighborhood ice skating rinks began to pop up as parents asked for them. Being close to home for activities seemed more important back then. There were three good-sized ice rinks in the city that kids could walk to. Once we were in high school it was fun to met friends at a rink in the evening … after homework was done, of course! You will notice that I used the word “walk.” That is exactly what we did to get from Point A to Point B. Most high school kids did not have a car to drive back then.

Grocery stores were also a neighborhood “thing.” I counted 50 of them in the H.A. Manning Rutland City Directory for 1954. It was common to be sent to the closest store to pick up something your mother needed. Most families had only one car and mothers tended to stay home as homemakers. Sending your children to pick up a few items at a nearby store was a common event. I was always given money for a popsicle or fudgesicle so I was more than willing to go!

For me the neighborhood concept that existed as I was growing up in resulted in life-long friendships. I am still in contact with quite a few of those people. We can pick up a conversation like it was yesterday.

Our neighborhood has taken some steps to re-establish the values of old. A neighbor, who was in her 80s at the time, hosted a tea party in her back yard. She told me it could be the “last hurrah” for her. Unfortunately, it was, but we all had a great visit and got to meet some of our newer neighbors.

A neighbor and I hosted a cookout a few years ago. We left flyers at all the houses on our street. We provided the burgers, hot dogs and buns. Everyone else brought something. Because we were all in one place at the same time it was easy to mingle and chat.

Within the past few years, homeowners just a street away from mine began to have an annual Christmas party. Invitations are left at each house and everyone brings a dish.

I don’t know if this trend is happening in other neighborhoods but if not, it would be a great tradition to start.

You can’t “look back” on something that never happened and neighborhood events will be looked back on fondly if the effort is made to make them happen.

Technology could easily contribute to isolation if we let it. Let’s get together and talk face to face.

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