Sometimes you need to create a village

Create a village

Photo: Wasfi Akab

When I was young, growing up on St. Croix, Sundays were for visiting.  The entire family would pile into the car, drive around, and invariably pull up to someone’s house, uninvited, and visit for a couple hours.

Other days the favor would be returned, and we’d find some friends at the door.  “Come on in,” my mother would say, “stay awhile.”  Drinks would be poured, food would be prepared, and after dinner I would settle under the table, listening, until I quietly fell asleep.

Unfortunately, those days are gone.  No one arrives, unannounced, at the door to casually socialize.  We all say we are too busy for such spontaneity.  If we want to visit the event must be planned, often choreographed down to the smallest details.  Can we bring Fido or should we get a dog sitter?  And what about the kids?

The model for spontaneous socializing seems to be the European village, with its central piazza and everyone living within walking distance. The evening stroll becomes a daily exercise in casual conversation between friends and neighbors.  And from that neighborliness bonds are created that endure, often for a lifetime.

But in the United States our towns and neighborhoods are not built this way.  My parents got around this lack of proximity by turning the evening stroll into a weekly Sunday drive.  Cocktail parties were commonplace.

Today, our need for human contact and socializing has not diminished, even if the ease with which we can do it has.  And that is where the dilemma lies.  How do we make frequent contact with friends when so much conspires against us given contemporary lifestyles?

If you don’t have one, create a village

One answer is we simply make it happen.  We manufacture events that allow us to get together with friends and family.

Pam and I have a dear friend who often says that as our children leave the nest to start families and live their own lives, our friends become our family.  She’s right, of course.  I would add that it’s important to continually expand your circle of friends, and to find excuses to get together with them – often.

We were thinking of this after returning home from our summer in New Jersey.  What could we do to gather our friends on a regular basis and socialize together?  The answer we came up with is something we call First Fridays.

I got the idea from a recent article in the Penzeys spice catalog.  Once a month the family profiled hosts a spaghetti dinner at their home.  They have a fairly large family in the area and everyone is invited, and encouraged to bring along friends.

No formal invitations are sent, they just show up whenever they can.  Some months there might be 50 who come for dinner.  Others may be much less.  The fewest, she said, was one month when a grand total of five appeared at the door.  That’s when they had lots of leftovers.

So Pam and I decided we would host a dinner on the first Friday of each month, every month.  And we just had the first First Friday.

The thought is to provide a theme and a venue for a constantly revolving cast of characters to darken our door and lighten each others lives with their warmth, charm, and conversational prowess.  Okay, that last part may be stretching things a bit, but you get the idea.

And so far, with a sample size of exactly one, it’s a huge success.  We had a manageable group of 15 who enjoyed a meal, some wine, and one another’s company for about four hours.  The comments afterwards seemed to revolve around thanks for getting us all together – what a great idea.  Already, those who couldn’t make it but have heard about what a good time everyone had, have asked about the next one.

As pleased as we are with the reactions, it shouldn’t come as a surprise.  Just because we all don’t live in a village doesn’t mean we prefer a cloistered life, locked inside our homes in our gated communities.

Sometimes, we need to build a figurative village in our homes, our clubs, our churches.  Creating a comfortable space where friends and family look forward to gathering, spontaneously or not.

When Alex was growing up this often happened around the soccer field.  Today it’s at church or in our home.

We just like being around our friends.  And since everyone doesn’t live within a five minute walk of downtown Stuart, we try to make our house the town square.  The piazza where it’s easy to socialize, laugh, eat, and drink a glass of wine.

What can you do to create your village? 


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