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Tis the season to go over the river and through the woods, and Thanksgiving week is likely to be complicated for those who plan to travel. We can usually count on a blizzard about now. I’m not sure that the tradition of getting together with family during winter holidays is a wise one, and somewhere in the last forty years or so, it has become almost mandatory, because holidays are about the only time people go visiting anymore.

We invited friends for dinner last week and thoroughly enjoyed a leisurely visit, with not a lot of fuss; just a simple menu, a wood fire and a couple of candles, plus a lot of interesting topics of conversation. They took us as we are, and appreciated coming to the country where they could step out and really see the stars. No other decorations needed.

It reminded me of when I was growing up. We didn’t have a phone down there in the middle of the hills so if, on random evenings, car lights appeared in the driveway, the anticipation was almost more than I could stand. Which neighbors had decided to drop in for a visit? Most of them had kids my age so we’d have a high old time playing hide and seek, sitting in the open hayloft door singing to the moon or, if it was winter, playing Old Maid. The adults sometimes played cards, but mostly just enjoyed exchanging news of the community. The only times we went to town for entertainment were on holidays, or for Saturday night dances.

A couple of decades later, when I was raising my own youngsters, about the only thing that had changed was that we had phones and could check to see if the neighbors were going to be home. Generally, the evening began with company for supper. Later, the kids got into mischief, adults played cards, and a good time was had by all. Even after the youngsters were old enough to participate in school sports we made time for neighbors on weekends or vacations. 

I was wondering, last week, whatever happened to the custom of “neighboring” until it dawned on me that somewhere along the years we allowed the schools to take over all social life and once the kids are done with that, we’re too tired to care about getting out much.

When I was a kid, my family sometimes visited the Omaha relatives and I could never get over the fact that my grandparents only knew the next door neighbors to nod to. They did know the last name of one family, but otherwise it was as if they lived on a desert island. Lately, I almost wonder if our rural culture isn’t headed that way. The people we interact with most are the ones whose kids or grandkids are in the same school activities as our family. If no kids live at home, perhaps it’s the members of our church or a club in the community, not necessarily the people who live nearest to us. We wave when passing on the road, and comment in the post office that we really need to get together one of these days, but it rarely happens.

So, we find ourselves taking dumb chances where weather is concerned to gather with family on holidays, partly because it’s customary, but often because we’re just hungry for fellowship and simpler times. Go do the turkey deal if you like. Stay home if it’s too much trouble. But sometime this winter, put a pot of chili on the stove, bake some homemade cinnamon rolls and call up the neighbors to join you, just for fun. I promise, it will be.

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