What keeps us inside our houses and cars separates us from neighbors. When we took up residence here last October there were only a couple of weeks of porch weather remaining, and darkness was falling earlier. When winter came there was no way that anyone would be out on the street. Whether in a car or on foot, few people paused in the cold for conversations. In the winter in Taiwan, one can easily stop and chat with friends, neighbors and even strangers while outside. Not here.
But now summer has arrived. People are outside because it’s pleasant. Reconstruction of the street and all the pipes under it has induced many of us to park at the corner instead of in our own driveways and garages. The sidewalks are also gone for the time being. To get from house to car, one walks across neighbors’ lawns. Nobody minds, because we’re all in the same mess.
In contrast to Taiwan, where summer is too hot to stand around outside and it’s too buggy to stand still, this place lends itself to slowing down and talking. Last night on my way to the car (to go to a free blues band concert in a park several miles away) I fell into a chat with Shelly, a single woman in her 40s who, like us, just moved into the neighborhood last year. She was with Tom, a friend who delivers the mail and had come over to visit. They were on her porch. As we got acquainted, I mentioned that I was going out to a concert. We said our goodbyes and I was on my way.
I met friends at the venue. One loaned me a folding chair so that I wouldn’t have to sit on the grass. Sometime between the first and second set, Shelly and Tom showed up. I introduced them to the group among whom I was seated as “folks from Hope Church” and “neighbors”. Tom, Bob (a college biology professor) and I chatted about this and that during the intermission. Shelly and Linda (sitting on the other side of me) got acquainted in their own conversation. Linda is a retired landscape designer, also single and also recently relocated to Holland. Shelly is getting started on doing things about her yard. I’ve no idea what they talked about, but there was a natural connection there. Then the band came back, the conversations ended, and the music re-started.
It doesn’t get dark until 9PM or so during the summer here. I’m looking forward to more chance encounters, on porches, on people’s lawns, and at outdoor concerts. We’re planning a couple of weeks in Taiwan in January. That’s when we’ll chat with those neighbors.
David Alexander resides in Holland, MI after 39 years in Taiwan