Sunday afternoon I finished my last chat, signed out of my work computer and made a beeline for grand old country inn at the center of Arlington Vermont. A friend and neighbor of mine was celebrating her 85th birthday, and her daughter had invited family and friends which seemed to include much of my town of Sandgate, a village of 300+ people just next to Arlington.
I got there late but still found a place in the shade of a nearby episcopal church. As I walked up a path towards the barn at the back of the inn where large summer functions are usually held, I passed neighbors and friends from out of town. Here was a friend still in my work shirt and jeans from a job finished just before the party, there on the right I spied a friend from New York, perfectly styled for the weather in a linen dress. In the two minutes it took me to find the table on the mossy hill behind the barn where my guys were sitting, I saw perfectly a turned out teenager chatting with a grandparent wearing a Sunday best outfit that looked like it had been to quite a few parties. The variety of the crowd was like a field of flowers on the hill.
I had missed cocktail hour, and the Big Guy had parked our family at the same table as our next-door neighbors and some acquaintances up from Manhattan. We have always had interesting conversations with our neighbors about many topics. He’s more conservative while she and the Big Guy and I are decidedly more liberal, but there’s always been lively dialogue, even when, against the advice of Emily Post, the conversation turns political.
Politics has been even more out of bounds at many gatherings lately, something I’ve heard many people report lately. There are plenty of blogs highlighting the current points of division in the US, and mine won’t if it can’t contribute anything but more noise to the cacophony. At Sunday’s party, our foursome instinctively understood that discussing those divisions, even quietly with very old friends over roasted vegetables and artisanal bread in the shade of an oak tree, would just be more noise.
So we talked about the weather and our families. We talked about the husband’s art and their summer travel, carefully skirting around anything remotely related to current events. Thing1 had gone for his second helping at the buffet when the first lull in the conversation occurred.
“So, have you had any trouble this year with the Japanese not-weed?” The wife led the way out. My vegetable garden is in planters this year, and I had fallen behind on horticultural current events. She brought us up to date on the latest species to appear by roadsides, taking over veggie plots, telling us her strategy for curbing it’s impact. Talk turned from taking care of gardens and gardeners on our road to taking care of the town in general.
By the time the servers were bringing out the birthday cake, we had covered the deer population and road crew projects. Everyone in Sandgate has their ideas about what’s best for the town, and many debates end by agreeing to disagree. Our foursome had few disagreements. We knew, however, that talk town was safe not because we agree but because we had faith that everyone of us deeply cares about the town and the people in it.
I know there will be other times when our little foursome will get together and wade into territory that would set etiquette experts wagging their fingers. Just as we do with the town talk, however, we’ll rely on that faith in the ‘better angels’ in each other that has allowed us to engage in dialogs all these years. It’s because of that faith, after all, that half the town can show up to a birthday party for one of its own on a sweltering Sunday or a fly-overrun potluck today and celebrate the things and people we have in common rather than letting our differences tear us apart.