Tag Archives: social customs

The Lamentable Silence of the Doorbell

I get so excited when the UPS man comes. One of us is getting a package! Cool! But I also get sad. It’s just the UPS man.

I mean, he’s working. He can’t stay.

But…I could put some coffee on…

Is it my imagination, or did people used to…y’know, stop by and see people? Unscheduled? I know it’s not my imagination, because I distinctly remember being in the back seat of my Dad’s enormous Impala when he would say to my Mom, “Long as we’re in the neighborhood, let’s stop in and see Maishe.” And so we’d swing on over to Uncle Max’s, knock on the door, and spend a pleasant couple hours. My brothers and I would romp in the yard; the adults would chat over coffee and solve the world’s problems and figure the Steelworkers were asking too much this time and the Steelers, what are you gonna do with coaching like that, and no, haven’t seen Ernie for weeks.doorbell

The honors of visits such as these were not limited to family. In an age when the telephone still felt new to the Depression generation, talking was preferred face to face. Presence was the thing, not just the talk. Be it friends or family, homes were open and visitors were welcomed. There were loose rules — not too early, not too late, don’t stay too long, don’t impinge on meal times. But otherwise, there was beer in the fridge and coffee in the pot, and heck, we got some of this cheese log and some crackers…

Somewhere along the years, I remember someone saying soberly at the suggestion of a drop-in, “Oh. Oh no. We can’t just pop in without calling.”

Wha? What happened? How? Did things speed up so much and get so informal that there was no time, plus too much chance of finding someone in their sweatpants? Did the collegial habit of visiting require some sort of Ward-and-June, creased-pleat perfection?

I was disappointed. I still am. But the behavior is burned into my set of social rules. Even when I manage to overcome it and actually drop in on someone, I do so with trepidation.

What to do? Well, for one thing, start again — but with a tacit social understanding: if the visitee says, “Lovely to see you, but could we do it another time? I’m just jammed up here changing the filler in the Diaper Genie and Jessica has a fever…”, then the visitor must cheerily understand and postpone.

Why not? Shouldn’t every visit from friends and family be like a delightful Christmas gift? Aren’t our lives predictable enough? What brings a smile quicker than the approach of a friend you haven’t seen for awhile?

Lotsa questions. We should talk about it. C’mon by when you can; I can get a pot of coffee on…

© 2014 Adam Barr

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