Saturday, August 21, 2010

Inspiration From Mitford: Cultivating Community

“Going south on Main Street to Wisteria Lane were the post office, the library, a bank, the bookstore, Winnie Ivey’s Sweet Stuff Bakery, and a new shop for men’s furnishings.

There was also a grocery store, so well-known for its fresh poultry and produce from local sources that most people simply called it The Local. For thirty-six years, The Local had provided chickens, rabbits, sausage, hams, butter, cakes, pies, free-range eggs, jams, and jellies from a farming community in the valley, along with vegetables and berries in season. In summer, produce bins on the sidewalk under the green awnings were filled each day with Silver Queen corn in the shuck. And in July, pails of fat blackberries were displayed in the cooler case . . .

The second and only other business block of Main Street was lined with a hardware store, a tea shop, a florist, an Irish woolen shop, and an antique shop, with gardens in between.”

I love the description of Mitford that Ms. Karon presents to us near the beginning of “At Home in Mitford.” Reading it always makes me want to jump into the pages of the book and walk down Mitford’s streets visiting the quaint shops and stores along the way. Mitford is a make-believe town, but it’s based on the real town where Ms. Karon’s lives - Blowing Rock, North Carolina. Though I’ve never walked the streets of Blowing Rock, I have walked the streets of Wellsboro, Pennsylvania. And every time I visit there, I feel as if I’ve stepped right into the pages of a Mitford novel.

The photo above is one I took at a little coffee shop which sits in the front part of a 100-year-old department store called Dunham’s in Wellsboro. M. and I love to sit in front of the windows with a cup of hot tea and watch the passers-by. Besides Dunham’s, Wellsboro boasts a used book shop; a sweet shop filled with delicious smells of candy, coffee and frozen treats; a diner that was once a train car where the locals (and visitors) can have a big slice of one of the more than dozen different pies; a beautiful library; the Green where you can sit on a park bench and read or enjoy the fountain and the breeze; as well as the infamous gas lights that still line and shine the avenue.

On our latest trip to the coffee shop, M. and I conversed about how one can create a small town feeling of unity and community no matter where one lives. Cultivating relationships seems to be the key. Making the point of taking the time to connect with others helps one feel a part of the community. In our fast-paced age, we’re often guilty of running here and there without thought to the person behind the counter. Choosing to strike up simple conversations and building on that relationship week-by-week is a good starting point. Making it a habit to get in the same cashier’s line each week is one way of getting to know someone by making conversation. So is visiting a smaller, mom-and-pop type store where it can be easier to come in contact with the same people from week-to-week. Another added benefit to shopping at a smaller store instead of a larger chain is that you’re supporting a family business instead of a large corporation.

Getting to know our neighbors is yet another way to cultivate community. Introducing yourself, dropping off a homemade treat, and/or offering to help with some chore are all simple ways to build neighborliness. I find that taking a morning walk has also connected me with my neighbors. Many of them are elderly or farmers who are out and about early in the morning. A word here and there has slowly developed little relationships that I trust will grow with time. I also enjoy making it a point to visit various neighbors periodically. Several of them have become such a sweet blessing to me – sharing veggies, wisdom, ideas and friendship with me.

I hope that these few ideas will spark your imagination and creativity as to how YOU can cultivate community right in the town, neighborhood or city where you live!

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