I was not introduced to the phrase “living in community” until recent years. I knew I grew up in “a” community, but I did not realize I lived “in” community minus the article “a.” until that phrase became a 21st Century buzzword. My parents’ generation lived in community too, but it was such a natural part of life I suppose they felt no need to give it an official name.
My mother was a native Southerner who found herself transplanted first in Chicago and then in Racine, Wisconsin. My father was an executive for two large farm equipment corporations during my early formative years. The lady with a degree in French from Florida Sate University adapted to life in the mid-sized Wisconsin city quite well.
She took up tennis and played with her friends at a club with indoor courts. She volunteered at Wind Point Elementary School, where I attended. (Much to my chagrin) She held dinner parties for visiting corporate leaders. There was a joke floating around the Case Corporation that you wanted to attend a meeting Mr. Knox was hosting in Racine, because his wife would have you over for a gourmet meal after the work day.
All of those dinner parties coupled with feeding three kids led to consistent trips to “Willie’s Sentry.” Sentry was the grocery store over on Douglas Avenue that all of the ladies in our neighborhood frequented. It was not just any “Sentry” brand store. It was “Willie’s Sentry.” I seem to recall my mother uttering that phrase only in the most reverent of tones.
Willie as I recall was the general manager of the store. As an 8 year old kid, I didn’t realize that he was the master of public relations. Stay at home moms like mine drove their cars to the curb in front of the store and Willie carefully loaded their groceries for them. There were no high school kids working during the day sacking groceries that I recall. And Willie was not glued to a computer working on some spreadsheet. (There were no computers to be found in 1972 in Willie’s Sentry.) He learned his customer’s names and took time to talk with all of them. My mother felt as if she was being unfaithful if she picked up a gallon at milk at the A&P in The Shorecrest Shopping Center. She of course belonged to Willie.
I drove by Willie’s Sentry last year. The building over on Douglas is empty. It seems shockingly small to me today. As I watch the construction of a huge HEB store going up near our home, I can’t help but think of Willie. Interacting with Willie and others like him defined our sense of community. I think making friends like him helped my mother over time to feel at home in a place where she had no roots.
There were heel marks when my father chose to take his career in the equipment business in a different direction in 1975. My mother was not ready to leave Racine. She had grown to love the city and the people. She had made friends. And she knew what my father’s colleagues preferred to eat as well, and would not think of them going to a restaurant. She was living in community.
How do we discover a sense of community in a Post-Willie world? Life is faster and more complex. Most moms are working outside the home now to keep the family afloat.
I for one have found part of my life in community by reconnecting with friends who were tow with their mom’s one aisle over from me at Willie’s Sentry. And I could not be more thankful. Where do you find a sense of community?