On Growing Older – Part 3, by A.E.

(Continued from Part 2. This concludes the article.)

Adding families into the social mix of the hunting group made socializing more complex. Basically it meant there were three levels: the men who could and did get along, the women who might get along, and the kids who would usually get along with a little parental supervision. There were exceptions. There was the woman who I’m sure had vinegar instead of blood in her veins, another woman looked for things to complain about and make an issue of, and the woman who would drag a hapless family member into their tent to change clothes if there was a spot on the shirt, a mud dab on a pant leg. (she ran out of clean clothes for the family in two days of camping and she was miserable the entire time.)

The kids could be a flash point with the most easygoing of people: “Well, my kid would never do that!” There was the kid that would steal anything, whether needed or not. Then there was the kid that liked to torment and pick on other kids(in this instance it was a girl) and again we heard “well she would never do that, they must have done something!” At the best of times, kids can be great on a camping trip; at the worst of times they can turn the great outdoors into something out of Dante’s Inferno.

Again, courtesy and manners in the face of yelling and threats were the only things keeping things from getting out of control. It also helps if you can think on your feet, offer alternatives (an oblique approach), and be willing to stand firm if needed. Also, always remember in the back of your mind: “You might be wrong.”

There are no easy answers when you are talking about organizing families; There are even fewer answers if you talk about neighborhoods. If you use types of math as a description for the different levels of group organizing, then hunting camp would be arithmetic (1+1+1); adding the families to the mix takes it to algebra (2x+2y +1=?), and if you are talking neighborhoods, it’s calculus.

Through it all, courtesy and manners, and the ability to maintain them, are the only thing that will give you a hope of making it work, and sometimes you just have to say “This isn’t working.” And try a different mix of people. You may not be able to organize a group, but for heaven’s sake, don’t make unnecessary enemies, that will bite you when you can least afford it. Courtesy again. Your mileage will vary.

With the hunting camps as an organizing basis, there was something to build an organization on. With neighborhoods, not so much. It’s just a collection of people that happen to live in the same area. If your community has a “Neighborhood watch program”, that is a good beginning for getting to know each other and offer some protection to the neighborhood. After posting the signs indicating this was a neighborhood watch area, we noticed an immediate drop in the number of ‘casual’ strollers on our street that also seemed too interested in the gates and garages. We now have phone numbers and names of our residents on a list for emergencies.

We had a number of barbeques and get-togethers as a result of the program that otherwise would not have happened. Your mileage will very. Is it the only way? Certainly not. If you can, socialize the neighbors first: birthday parties? Retirement parties? ‘I have a pig I need roasted and eaten before it spoils party’ so everybody come visit. Scouting, PTA, bowling team, church anything to get people assembling and interacting. Learn to ignore and not pass on gossip. It can sour a group very quickly, and often backfires on repeaters.

Find out who, what, where, when, and why about your neighbors. If that sounds intrusive, keep in mind they will be sizing you up as well. From the socializing, you should find some people that are friendly and good to be around. You will probably find some others that you really want to be on good terms with, but not friends. In neighborhoods, there are no one size fits all.

Be prepared for irrational situations. We lost a good friend because we socialized with some people of Chinese descent who were smart, industrious, and became good friends. One thing in particular: watch what you say around your kids. They will repeat it as gospel to others: out of context, in spite, or just as a jab at other kids and it will get back to the parents. The old saying “Little pitchers have big ears” is still true. While digging up old sayings, the other one is “If you can’t say something good, then say nothing.”

Groups, like the people in them, will slowly age out. There are three of us left of the originals and we don’t count as a group anymore.

I haven’t mentioned self-defense because that is so subjective and determined by location, attitude, and age that it would be open-ended and has been covered by others ad nauseam. Just don’t depend on the goodness of others, the cops (they only pick up the pieces afterward), or luck. For personal protection, I still have my hunting ‘tools’, good out to 300 yards. Up close and personal? So many choices: fire extinguishers, bats(have a catcher’s glove handy so it’s not a ‘weapon’), bow saw, camping hatchet, ‘ornamental’ sword, antique firearm on the wall, real firearms, wife’s hair spray…use your imagination and fight dirty when necessary.

During a power blackout, a friend dug out his Coleman stove and lantern and with two neighbor friends, set up a picnic in his front yard. Other neighbors came to the light, asked if they could use his stove for their food, and with the addition of a barbeque grill, a neighborhood cookout was born. Someone else turned on a battery radio for news and music. It cost him a half can of white gas but about half the people later went out and got stoves and lamps as a result. Neighbors that before had just nodded to him would now smile and visit. When the power came back on, most everybody stayed for another hour or two and just visited. There was only one man that complained that there wasn’t enough food and what was there, wasn’t cooked right. He didn’t stay long and contributed nothing. Would this always happen? You take your chances and smile through it all.

Regardless of your friendships, don’t wear your prepper hat for everyone to see. Always keep a couple aces in the hole. It isn’t that your friends will betray you, but they may very well make what seems an innocuous comment to the wrong person and it will come back to bite you. The other problem: if you always seem to have and provide what you or the neighborhood needs, some will expect and feel entitled to demand any and all of your preps. With a reputation for always being prepared, the first time you’re not Johnny on the spot with everything needed for the immediate ‘emergency’, expect recriminations or outright demands and hostility. Nobody ever guaranteed that humans would always be logical, kind, and understanding.

Do I have all the answers? No. Sometimes I don’t even know enough to ask the right questions, but I’m working on it. The most important lessons I have learned are:

“Talk less and listen more.”

“Remember your manners.”

“Keep working on it, Whatever currently it is.”

Oh, and when talking to other people, watch their body language; sometimes you can tell someone is lying just by the way they stand, they’ll talk louder on a lie, or their eyes will flick side to side to judge whether people are buying the story. Again, your mileage will vary, and knowing people and their mannerisms, especially if they are neighbors, is a valuable tool.

Rereading this, maybe I should have called it “Your mileage will vary, mind your manners, and ‘I’m working on it.'”