By Jeff Carter
When growing up in rural Ontario, community was all around. There were many neigbours within easy walking distance. When anyone new ventured to settle there, I remember my mother heading out with a casserole or an offering baked goods as a welcome.
Having been raised for much of her young life as a foster child, I can only imagine her actions were something learned, perhaps from my grandmother who shared one side the rambling, frame structure we all inhabited.
I only knew Grandmother Carter in her elder years, my father being the youngest of seven. She always seemed aged and worn and it’s only in recent years that I realize she too was once young. There’s a photograph my sister No. 2 discovered, likely taken just prior to the outbreak of the Great War, depicting her as a striking, young woman, her auburn tresses piled high, a dark stone attached at her throat to the buttoned collar of her blouse.
Her family were German-speaking, Pennsylvannia Deutsch, but not of the Mennonite persusian, though they lived just south Tavistock in Oxford County, one of the first areas in Ontario settled by Mennonite families. Neighbourlyness in her time, I suspect, was more than a simple kindness but an essential ingredient for community success.
It’s my understanding that in the big city folks know little of their neighbours, beyond a passing nod in their direction, and the same largely holds true in even smaller urban centres. It was from one of these a family located some time ago to our neighbourhood here in Dresden.
It was Marie who made the traditional offering of food as a welcoming gesture and I took up the position that the new family should at least be given a decent chance to settle in. To the new children next door, I immediately became “neighbour” – especially for the smallest, a mere whisp of a girl with boundless energy who, upon seeing me or sensing my presence, would as often as not rush over to give me a hug – though her mom and elder siblings discouraged the action and I did nothing to encourage it.
The mom offered the word “thankyou” a few days before they moved on and the evening before their departure, they gathered on our back porch for the first and last time. We served a few snacks and Michelle raced about in her usual frenetic manner until making a critical misjudgement, slamming full force into the closed, sliding screen door and bouncing back a distance greater than her height.
She rose in an instance, pushed away the tears before they could emerge, and responded to my grin with a small, angry frown. The next morning, the moving van having arrived, she wouldn’t look my way.
Neighbours matter, community matters, as much today as ever before.
I had intendeded to write about the importance of moving toward a farmer-centric form of food production, a system in which farm families become the primary decisionmakers rather than being just lesser members of the “team” that is agriculture.
Yet in having considered the matter more thoroughly, I now see that working from the starting point of community – a community that embraces all its members – is more important.
That begins with neighbours and, as Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan envisioned, extends outward and moves beyond political lines drawn upon a map. His vision of the “Global Village” has indeed become a reality, though the village remains mired in discord – the challenge of our times. ◊