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The Vanished Art of “Dropping In”

People just don’t visit as they once did.

In an earlier, simpler time, visiting friends and neighbors was a normal party of everyday life. Sunday afternoons and holidays were special times for visiting, but it was normal for folks to “drop in” on others at any time.

It was such a normal event to have people “drop in,” unannounced and without our sending them a special invitation, that people prepared to have it happen. And they wondered what was wrong when it didn’t happen.

People tried to keep their houses looking reasonably presentable. They tried to dress at all times such as not to be embarrassed if guests did “drop in.” They weren’t decked out in their finest “go-to-meetin’

clothes,” but they were presentable. And, although it wasn’t a requirement, they often even ensured that they had something to offer such guests to eat or drink while they visited. Nothing fancy. A slice of cake or pie, a cup of tea or coffee, a glass of iced tea or lemonade.

Rather than being annoyed or put out by such spontaneous visitors, the hosts and hostesses were honored and happy. Whenever guests were seen coming to the door, the typical response was an enthusiastic, “Oh, it’s the Smiths!” You never heard, “Oh no! Wonder what they want?” It wasn’t unusual to hear family members say as their guests departed, “Come back sometime when you can stay longer.” And they meant it. And very few people ever wore out their welcome by overdoing it. They were considerate. Yet they continued to drop in occasionally.

Visiting was a social grace, an art even. It was a matter of civility, hospitality, sociability, friendship, courtesy, and good manners. It showed that one cared. The social offense was not in an unannounced visit but in the complete lack of visiting.

Why don’t we visit each other the way we once did? There are many possible reasons. No, they are merely excuses. We do what we really want to do.

  1. We’re all too busy. Too many of us so much so that we hardly have time for our own immediate family members. We are involved in too many other things that we think are more important than human friendships.

  2. It’s too much trouble. It takes time to have refreshments always at the ready (although they really are not necessary for such visiting). If they are available, we often prefer to hoard them for our own consumption.

  3. We assume that we’ll disrupt the activities of the people we “drop in on,” and we know they’re already busy enough. “It’s too close to suppertime.” “It’s almost bedtime.” “They’re so busy they’ll want time to be by themselves.” “We probably shouldn’t bother them.” (Going against this assumption and receiving a cold “welcome” once or twice reinforces this feeling and stifles whatever inclination we might have to “drop in.”)

  4. People don’t sit on their porches or in their yards much any more. We value our private time more than we value interaction with others. We hide away inside with our TVs and computers or in our backyards where no one will see, let alone visit, us.

With all these excuses, is it any wonder that one can live in the same neighborhood for years and not know his or her own neighbors? And no one seems to care. Or that so many people have so few real friends (as opposed to mere acquaintances or work colleagues)?

Will there ever again be a day when people visit each other for no other reason than pure friendship or neighborliness? Or “just because”? One author says that such visits “dignif[y] both the visitor and the visited.” From the looks of things, it seems we aren’t very dignified any more!

Here’s to the fond memories of the drop-in friends–and a sincere desire that we’ll one day see a return to that sign of civility.

Copyright (c) 2018, Dennis L. Peterson

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