The Society Page

I inherited an old trunk that sat in my grandma's basement. It had belonged to the generation before, who had used it to bring their possessions across the sea from Sweden. It sits in my dining room. It smells a little musty, but I treasure it as a link to my heritage.

I was thrilled to receive the trunk, but even happier when I opened it and saw my bonus surprise. The bottom was lined with pages of a newspaper from May 14, 1912. I framed these pages and hung them on a wall in my house. Whenever I look at these pages, I find something amusing. They're full of advertisements for remedies to cure everything from kidney trouble to headaches, dandruff, and excessive perspiration. They contain news stories that remind me of the fleeting nature of some of the things that seem newsworthy today. They also remind me that some things never change. But Page 7, the Society page, makes me a little sad.

The Society page contains updates about the travels of Mrs. Northrup, Mr. Graham, the Brooks family, others. It tells who has out-of-town guests. It provides announcements for bridge parties and an upcoming Cooking Club get-together. It gives tips for hosting a perfect dinner party or afternoon tea.

Big deal, I know. So Colonel and Mrs. William Allaire had a bridge party. What's so sad about that? Well, it's not the bridge parties that make me sad. It's my feeling that we have lost something these turn-of-the-century folks had. They actually cared to read about these things in their city newspaper.

I know, we can read plenty of gossip in the newspaper any day. But this seems different. These aren't stories about movie stars, sports stars, criminals, famous addicts, or people who are famous for no particular reason. These were people they actually knew. People they wanted to keep track of. They belonged to a community.

I've been thinking a lot about community lately. I'll confess I believe I'm missing a skill set. I don't really know how to form community. Is this a lost art, or is it just me?

Sure, I know how to make friends. I have terrific coworkers, whom I consider friends. I have friends at church, I'm friendly with my neighbors, and we get together regularly with other families we consider our friends. Many of our friends are scattered throughout the country, and some of them overseas, but we keep in touch.

But I don't think a network of friends necessarily equals a living, breathing community of people. Come to think of it, most of my friends don't even know each other. I can bounce from one friend to another - or one group to another - without a second thought. Even my church feels like a nice weekly gathering of people I barely know. I am not surrounded by a tightly woven web of people who experience life together.

July 27, 2007 at 11:28 AM

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