The Lost Art of Dropping By

Before the leaves started turning one year, we stopped by our neighbors', the Britos, to eye their yard sale. One of their sons started up about how people don't talk to each other anymore. He was a blackjack dealer at one of the casinos, and he was talking about this and that, and how Espanola, New Mexico, is getting browner and how beautiful culture is, and how he tells his children (the ones who like to play cowboys and Eagle Warrior) to turn off the TV so they can have a nice talk.

“People have lost the art of conversation,” he told us. “Stop by again. I like to have intellectual conversations.”

That was a conversation of long ago. As we've moved, we've befriended other neighbors: Alice and Joe, who became like tios to us, uncle and aunt; sweet Robin, who let me cut her rosemary, and we embraced in peace after 9/11.

People have lost the art of visiting, or just plain neighborliness. People don't drop by or call. It's all on e-mail—invites to birthday parties, even notification of nervous breakdowns, divorce, and funerals, the kind of life markers that once warranted some kind words and a personal phone call.

We're proud to say we're notorious for dropping in on people unannounced. Our friends seem to enjoy this because it reminds us all of how our parents did things, or of the way things were when they were young and the compadres would drop by. Now a lot of people don't have time for spontaneity. It's not in the date book.

My husband and I often get inspired to drop in while we're bike riding or in the mood for pie. In fact, we make mental notes of where friends live so that we can have options when we don't find one home. We know friends who visit and say absolutely nothing. They just sit there with each other. Now that's poetry.

I remember I knew when visitors were coming because my grandmothers would bring out their best gravy dishes and the china their boys got them overseas in World War II. They'd serve Mexican hot chocolate or cinnamon tea. Don Agustin, or some respected señor or señora del barrio, would come wearing hats and canes and Sunday clothes in the middle of the week.

Some of my most prized possessions are my grandmothers' gravy dishes, some teapots, a Mexican traditional chocolate stirrer, and a lime squeezer for homemade limonada. And when guests drop by, I try to employ one of them in my feeble attempts at rising to my grandmothers' graces.

Of course, when we visit my folks in Texas country land between Godley and Joshua, my husband starts calling me “Mable,” and we joke that we can do nothin' in the front or nothin' in the back. Most of the neighbors there are sheep, horses, and dogs. Doin' nothin' is a nice visit with the land.

Now we live in Madison, Wisconsin. Our neighbor Gladys is 91 and a half years old. I help her with her hair and grocery errands, and she brings us cookies. Another neighbor graces us with arias and “Ave Maria.” Sometimes I see another neighbor with learning disabilities on the bus. For Halloween, she told me she was going as a bride. When the day came, I saw her walking in her winter jacket, wearing a white bridal dress, with her veil flying.

Conversation, visitin' and neighborliness—that's what makes community. It's time to reclaim our porch, find out what our neighbors are thinking, and let them know how much we like to hear them sing like a sweet bird in the shower. And if you're like us, apologize that your dog whines like a little bitty baby.

Patrisia Gonzales, along with her husband Roberto Rodriguez, writes the syndicated “Column of the Americas.” She is author of The Mud People: Anonymous Heroes of Mexico's Emerging Human Rights Movement (Chusma House Press). 
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