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Sunday, June 16, 2024


Compass Points 5.17.2006

By Al Campbell

What is a “sense of community?” Can it be touched or smelled? Can it be seen or heard? Intangible as it may be, like love itself, it will be known when it’s there, missed when it is absent.
Government may have the money to erect houses or apartments, and people can actually reside within those four walls, sheltered from the elements, yet never know a sense of community.
Last week, I read a news story of the Ocean City municipal election. One of the persons quoted in that article cited a loss in sense of community. He blamed posh, upscale dwellings as part of the reason for the demise of that feeling of well-being.
Part of the seashore’s charm, he noted, was lost when massive structures replaced smaller cottages with manicured lawns and bayberry bushes. Gone, often as a result of selling out at the peak of the real estate boom, are the ordinary people — the real characters — who make a place, well, home.
When common folks flee for parts unknown, towns lose. Yes, they may gain ratables, but ratables aren’t everything. Weekenders’ condominiums may have breath-taking seaside vistas from the living room, but there’s nowhere for children to play. The tax rates may be low, but when the call goes out for volunteer firefighters or rescue personnel, few locals are there to lend a hand.
That’s part of “sense of community.”
Schools are often rallying points for children and their parents. In seaside towns, they ARE the community, and many of them are shrinking as ordinary homes are sold, and weekend and vacation homes take their places.
“Sense of community” may be something as simple as buying cookies from Girl Scouts or attending a community-wide event, like Middle Township’s Harvest Festival.
While it may be a bit embarrassing at times, a sense of community often touches our personal lives. It may extend to our neighbors. Hearing those neighbors yell at each other on Saturday night over unpaid bills or a new car is something we don’t want to hear, but it’s part of life.
One of the things I used to find intriguing about visiting my grandmother and aunt in Astoria, Queens, was walking up the stairs of their apartments, and smelling a variety of food cooking. That, too, is sense of community, from scent of boiled cabbage to odor of roasted lamb or sautéed onions with peppers.
Sense of community comes from knowing which local merchants excel at certain things, like who makes THE best cheesesteak hoagie or who has the hands-down best cole slaw.
It’s also having a barber who knows how to trim your hair without telling him, and knowing there will be a few jokes during the cutting to brighten the day.
Communities tighten up when the going gets rough for a neighbor. When a tragic fire may strike, petty animosities are forgotten and a helping hand is extended. Pots of soup and casseroles are brought in, and words of hope and encouragement pour forth. Prayers may be said, solicited or not.
Sense of community is keeping an eye out the window, to make sure that widow or widower across the street or next door, whose family lives in Ohio or Florida, has the lights on, and if not, to go and check on their well being.
There is a sense of commonality as we stand, shoulder to shoulder, on national holidays, like the upcoming Memorial Day or fun days, like Halloween, and watch parades of townspeople as they go by on handmade floats or in uniforms or regalia of some sort.
Sometimes, when I visit the Baptist Cemetery in Court House, where my son and father are buried, I get another sense of community.
There I find many names from my childhood chiseled in stone. I’ll recall this one or that one, and a smile will cross my face. I wonder if they’re looking down or up at me, and what they’re thinking.
Sense of community comes from revisiting the school where you started kindergarten and the high school from which you graduated. It adds to the interest when grandchildren are in those same classrooms, although the education they are getting is light years different.
New houses may be nice, but sense of community is priceless.

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