"Southerners can't stand to eat alone.
If we're going to cook a mess of greens
we want to eat them with a mess of people."
-- Julia Reed
Love Can Build a Bridge
When my college roommate and I stopped living together at the end of the year, I cried. She had already decided to room with a home town friend the next year who was starting school. And even though she assured me we'd still be friends (and we still are), I cried because I knew it wouldn't be the same without sharing every day with her--being the intimate one in her life. The one who she turned to tell the silly little things about the day, her thoughts of the moment to. You don't call someone up to tell them these things. You know, the things that seem unimportant, that just cross through your mind.
And if you're not in the same house with someone for some ongoing amount of time, you don't know their little habits and quirks. Like how long they take to get breakfast ready or if they talk to their cat.
This is one of the reasons why I like to have people I love stay with me in my house when they come visit--not in a hotel. I want to see how they talk to their kids and how their kids talk with them in a comfortable setting. I want to see if they are the type that hug before bed or just kind of disappear. I want to see how they come down to eat breakfast--rumpled from sleep or already showered. I like to see if they walk around barefoot or in slippers or wearing socks that are permanently soiled on the bottom.
We had friends who came to our house once for dinner and the husband brought a raggedy old quilt with him that he liked to wrap in during a conversation. I loved him more night then than ever before.
When I visit my family, I prefer to stay with them for the same reasons--so I can be an intimate witness on their lives. And for at least a while to have our lives woven together. When I stay at my favorite aunt's house, it's always a joke about how everyone goes in the bathroom together. In her former house, the bathroom was a long room with a counter that went the whole length. I'm not exaggerating if I said that one woman could be on the toilet and 3 others sitting on the counter chatting.
That's one thing my dad's side of the family is really good at--not sharing private bathroom moments--but "going with." That's how my aunts and uncles say it--something like I'm going to pick up the kids, want to go with? or I can say something like, I have to go to the store. And they will say, I'll go with. I find this incredibly charming, comforting, and complimentary--a way of saying they want to keep the conversation going, want us to be mutual witnesses to each other's everyday lives.
Yesterday, I was my (step) daughter-in-law's sidecar companion (along side my granddaughter--her daughter). We went to get her daughter jazz shoes, we took her to build a bear, we shopped in Lane Bryant. We went to 2 grocery stores. Compared to my aunt's company, the banter was light. . . but it was oh so relaxing. Refreshing. Surprisingly blood pressure lowering. I can't say why. . . just the pleasure and good feelings of someone wanting you to be there by their side.
When I was in college, I had friends I met at the laundry mat, where we shared pizza hanging out waiting for the clothes to finish. These are the friends you miss the most when you are away from them. Once when I was feeling particularly friendless, I told Hubby I wanted to put an ad in the paper that said, "Wanted one friend who lives within 15 minutes of my house who will hang out with me as we do laundry."
It might be my deep feelings about woven lives that drew me to the story of Amoskeag here in Manchester, NH. Amoskeag is both the name of the falls on the Merrimack River and the name of the mills that ran for 100 years and whose looms were powered by the falls. A dam and canals were built; water was channeled right through cylindrical brick waterways (called penstocks) that ran through the buildings where their flow moved turbines that powered many gears and belts that moved the loom parts. It was amazingly and beautifully intricate. I learned all this by going to the Millyard Museum with Hubby on Friday.
Besides the weaving of the buildings, with the water, and the trains, the lives of the workers had to be interwoven. The mills were basically the whole town. There were multiple buildings for mills and a mechanic shop to keep everything working smoothly and train tracks all round the buildings. And there was family housing for people who worked in the mills--interestingly called "corporations." And many of the other businesses in town came strictly to serve the people who worked in the mills.
I felt like I had a glimpse into their lives--like seeing inside people's homes when you drive or walk by on a dark night. Photos give you the image of folks walking to their particular numbered buildings to start the work day. Multiple family members worked in the mills (This was before child labor laws.).
They talk about the noise of the mills and how people had to shout or lip read. . . they must have worked together like bees--all knowing what to do with one purpose, day after day.
And of course, it was likely often too much closeness. . .but the fact that the workers often came with a common purpose--for a new adventure, leaving their farms or their homelands, looking for new friends, had to have bonded them in some way, connecting them despite their diverse cultures.
Here's how it was described in the museum:
"Amoskeag millyard resembled a small medieval city complete with towers, moats, and gates. By 1915 a graceful arch of standardized brick buildings formed an unbroken mile long facade along the curve of the river, creating a model of visual unity."
The glimpse into my family's lives warms my soul and makes me feel connected. The glimpse into the lives of people at Amoskeag, long dead, fires my intellectual creativity thinking about all the interweaving--not only the fabric they wove, or the penstocks that wove their buildings to the river, but also their lives with the company and the workers to each other.