Did you ever read a novel or history book about the frontier days and mentally make note that it was odd that the women made friends so very quickly? You know what I mean: a woman and her family are traveling along, and they meet this other woman along the way, and this new acquaintance moves into their household and crosses the rest of the country with them, delivers all the other woman’s babies, and lives with them forever? I always thought that was an odd aspect of history, one that I could never understand or reconcile in my mind. Part of the confusion for me was that I was a shy child. Not just a little shy, but painfully shy, and painfully shy people don’t make friends easily. So these stories of instant and deep friendship just weren’t logical to me.
And then we moved to what I call the wilderness. Granted, it’s not technically the wilderness. We are within one hour of a large city. It may be twenty-five minutes to the grocery store, but at least it’s ONLY twenty-five minutes to the grocery store. We are within an hours’ drive to a major airport: and we do have neighbors on our country road.
But even though it doesn’t sound so very remote, the fact is that when you are here, day after day, it feels like you might as well be a hundred miles from everyone. It’s very quiet out here. There isn’t a whole lot of road noise. Once in a while you hear an airplane overhead. You hear the horses and a donkey from down the road. You hear the roosters that a neighbor a couple of farms down the road raises. You hear the dogs across the road barking. You hear the mailman going by, and because we are so far out, you know it’s the mailman because any time you hear a car coming down the road, you stop what you are doing to see who is driving down the road, and it is usually the mailman.
One of my neighbors said it correctly: “We live on the back side of nothing. If someone is driving down here, there are only three reasons. They are either lost, here for no good, or you know them.”
My husband and I used to enjoy driving through the countryside outside of Washington, D.C. on the weekends. And when we drove through those itty-bitty towns or even just past a farmhouse out in the country, I always wondered why everyone seemed to have known that we were coming because they were standing still, wherever they were, staring at the road. Most waved, though some did not. All watched us pass, silently.
Now I know why they did that. They could hear us coming in that country silence. They knew we were coming because they could hear us a long way off. And they stopped and looked because they were curious to know if it was someone that they knew or could talk to. And now I have become one of those human statues, standing and staring. I want to know who is coming down our road, why, and I wonder if it’s someone to talk to or just someone blasting by.
Having no one to talk to out here in the country takes getting used to. Yes, I know, I have my husband with me, but between the tractors running, the mowers mowing, and the other equipment needing an operator, talking to him means that first I have to get his attention, then interest him in the conversation, and try to keep him involved in it, all the while putting my life in jeopardy. Mostly it follows this routine:
“Honey,” I yell to be heard over the roar of an engine.
“Honey!” I yell louder, waving.
“Honey!!” I scream as I throw myself in front of whatever machinery he is driving at the time in order to get his attention.
He mumbles under his breath as he turns off his machinery and answers, “What?”
When I start to explain the reason for the interruption, i.e., lunchtime, a phone call, a visitor, or just my need to speak to another human being as a change from talking to our dogs, his response is, “Can we talk later? I want to get this done.”
“Okay, but … “
“Honey, let me finish this and then we’ll talk later, okay?” And he restarts his engine and continues on, leaving me standing in his dust.
Sometimes, I get in the car and go looking for someone to talk to. I do, thank goodness, have great neighbors. So it’s not too hard for me to find someone willing to talk. It’s just usually not the man I live with.
And this is my point. I now understand those women of long-ago, coming across a person that they didn’t have to tackle before they could have a conversation, and being so thrilled to have voluntary conversation that consisted of more than five words, that they opened their lives to those women and became good friends in a very short amount of time. In our busy, rushed, and insular modern life, it’s hard to understand it. It’s hard to understand that aside from the religious aspect, those churches of olden times were packed full because people wanted to see other people, talk to a live thing that could understand and respond, and interact with other beings that didn’t just bleat, moo, or bark at you.
I understand now these small groups of people gathered together in front of the country store who are not shopping and who seem to sit there all day long. I now understand those people standing and waiting in their yards to see who is coming, because I, too, have become one of those human statues.