What Is a Community?

I recently had a friend suggest to me that I write about community.

He was referring specifically to a small intimate Italian restaurant in town where, because it's so popular, and there's often a waiting list, he (and his wife) met and fell in love with another friend of mine, someone who's had a great influence on my life, and become very important to him, too. 

This restaurant is very popular (I won't say the name but it's very near Cummings Beach), and on Saturday nights, people have to wait for a table.  Seems both sets of friends ran into each other all the time because they each went to this restaurant on Saturday night and had to sit in the tiny alcove to wait for your table.

Our mutual friend got very hungry one night and asked if they could have something to eat while they waited.  A small platter of cheese and crackers was presented and she and her friend asked the couple if they'd like to share.

And a beautiful friendship was born.

Here's where I come in.  My friend knew that her friend, a publisher of a magazine, was looking for a writer.  My friend also knew I'd been looking for work for some time.  "I don't know why this never occurred to me!" she told me last November.  "I'll tell Fred about you."

It's been a beautiful relationship ever since.

That's a community.  I grew up in Stamford and it's started to seem like there are no more communities here, the bigger it's gotten.  But then I started thinking about it, and I realized there are a lot of communities.  Right under my nose.

There's the Weight Watchers I go to every Friday (where I met our original friend, when my son was first born, 13 years ago).  She was the best friend I made there, but we developed other strong, lasting friendships, too.  We saw one friend go through ovarian cancer (happily, she's doing well seven years later), right around the same time I was diagnosed with breast cancer (happily, so am I).  We saw one friend, sadly, break up with a long-time partner. 

We all mourned together one of our beloved leaders (who always yelled at us when she weighed us and we'd gained weight), who died too quickly from lung cancer, and one friend and I went to her house, at her daughter's insistence, to pick out anything of hers we wanted (she told her daughter before she died she wanted me to have her -- Ralph Lauren and Polo -- clothes; I've never looked so good).

And when I found her granddaughter's pictures in her wallet, over a year later, I felt her right there with me, our community all around us.

I have another community.   It's my neighborhood.  Years ago when we moved in, we had no children and so I met no one.  But when my son came along a year and half later, and especially, when he started preschool, I met the world.  Two of the five mothers at our bus stop I met at preschool, and the other mothers became friends right away.  We were very lucky to move onto a street that had four kids all the same age, who, even now in middle school, remain best friends.

When I had cancer, these women bonded together and made dinner for us every night, watched over my son (then in kindergarten), and brought chocolate chip cookies, warm and gooey, fresh from the oven, to cheer me on. Oh, wait.  That was a friend from another community, Newfield Elementary School, where our sons went from kindergarten through 5th grade together. 

Finally, I have Rippowam, where my son attends middle school.  He'll be an eighth grader this year and so we only have one more year.  I've joined the Parent Teacher Organization (me, the non-joiner!) and I've come to know the teachers and administrators well (much better than when it was my high school in the 70s. . . and I try not to think of my son having gym in the very same cafeteria where we had the prom. At least, back then we didn't have the twerk).

I'll admit, it's been hard to watch Stamford change, Caldor's (where you got your first set of earrings after your ears were pierced) becoming Burlington, Columbus Park getting cleaned up (when I worked at The Advocate in the late '70s, you didn't go there after dark), and, one of the hardest, the beautiful cherry trees that once meant spring, cut down at Mill River Park (which, granted, at the time, was just thick brown mud).

So I guess there are still communities in Stamford, as much as it has changed, and everywhere.   You just have to look. 


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