We’re losing the art of conversation and small talk.
No one else was better at both than my parents’ and grandparents’ generations.
Before cable TV — and certainly before iPads and iPhones — there was a phenomenon that is becoming extinct: face-to-face conversations, or visiting someone for the sole purpose of talking.
Those who grew up during the Depression and the Baby Boomers who followed learned how to make conversation. My family had little money to divert ourselves to fancy activities, so conversation and interaction were how time was passed. That was especially so during the Depression and World War II.
After my generation came along, the kids would sit by the window looking at the latest View-Master reels or playing board games in the living room. All the while, the sounds of small talk emanated from the kitchen to our young ears.
People used to “call” on each other. Before folks had telephones, people would just show up for a visit. Rich people had “calling cards” they’d leave in the door to let those they’d missed know they’d stopped by.
In Arkansas, if we stopped by and no one was home we just yelled at the folks working in the yard across the street and asked them to let their neighbor know we were there.
A knock at the door could take an otherwise monotonous day and turn it into an adventure for us kids. Long visits allowed us to hear stories of old and discussions of all types.
We learned a lot. Kids hear more than you think. We were no exception.
Simple beverages such as coffee and tea were shared by the grownups while they sat in the kitchen and discussed the new minister, when they were going to plant their corn, or whether the politicians were making things worse (some things never change).
The tea reminds me of a documentary I saw on Earl Hamner Jr., who created “The Waltons” TV show based on his real family and his years of growing up. He said that after the show became popular, fans would travel to Schuyler, Virginia, (the location for the real Waltons Mountain), to the house where he grew up and knock on the door.
The only problem was his mother still lived there. But, being from a generation that always offered hospitality to someone who visited, she would invite these complete strangers in and serve them tea. Hamner said he eventually had to supplement her tea budget because of all the visitors. She even kept a guest book. One year she entertained more than 4,000 people.
But technology has changed things. People use their cell phones and computers to communicate with each other. And that’s not necessarily a good thing. There’s no substitute for human interaction.
If we could carve out some time once or twice a month to go visit each other and just have coffee and chat, maybe some of the chasms that have developed over politics might be bridged.
We each could start with a family member.
I call or text my mother almost every morning. Dad is gone, as is my sister, so it’s just my mom and me now. The conversations we have typically aren’t deep or extensive. But they are consistent. And I think that’s the key — the familiarity and respect that comes from talking with someone on a regular basis brings you closer. I’ll be going home soon for a visit. And even though I treasure our phone calls, visiting in person is so much more fulfilling.
If we each made an effort to make a personal visit just once a month, wouldn’t we be better off? So, let’s try to move away from cell phone FaceTime and toward real face time.