Saturday, May 30, 2020

Time to revive and revise art of calling

1887 photo depicts people in young citrus grove with farmhouse in background
Social distancing, pioneer style?
Calling on friends and relatives was a way of
life in frontier Florida, where many people
lived on isolated homesteads. The citrus grove
in this 1887 photo was in Seminole County.
(Photographer Frank Nelson; Florida Memory photo)

We need to revive and revise the lost art of calling. It was a regular part of life for people in 19th century Florida. Actually, for people across the United States and beyond. Everyone went visiting to see relatives, friends, and neighbors. In uptown society, calling evolved into a highly specialized form of etiquette. Detailed rules governed how, when, and upon whom one called or received callers. Each person even had a calling card, kind of like a business card.

The rules of calling were so elaborate they even dictated who sat where during a visit, depending on  social status. Woe to the person who failed to give up her seat to a social superior. For more on these arcane rules, listen to the Dressed - The History of Fashion podcast episode of Feb. 25, 2020, titled "Call Me: The Perils of 19th Century Etiquette." 

I'm promoting the more relaxed form of the art, the kind my husband and I found ourselves doing during the height of the coronavirus lockdown. Informal and rules be darned, except for keeping one's distance.

Back in the day, people in rural areas, farms, and citrus groves welcomed callers who rode out to say hello. The visits were welcome breaks in the daily routine for people who, as a rule, spent most of their time isolated on their homesteads. As we've been doing these past months.

Depending on time and place, a call could last from minutes to hours. Upper class people following the etiquette rules in towns sometimes made a number of calls within a single afternoon.

I thought about the art of calling when my husband and I made the rounds of two homes of friends one after another, the same day we ventured out to the supermarket for supplies.

At the first stop, I picked up sour-orange seedlings my friend had potted for me from cuttings taken from a tree in her yard. The original tree froze years ago and regrew from its tough, sturdy rootstock. It seems to be resistant to citrus greening, a menace in Florida, and I definitely want to try establishing it in my yard. The tree produces what we call Seville oranges, which are sour and used like lemons. 

My friend and I walked through her veggie garden and chatted about oranges, muscadines, and other gardening things while our hubbies waited patiently for us to finish. It was a friendly visit that lasted about half an hour, and we all practiced social distancing. 

Then my husband and I drove over to another house to check on friends we hadn't heard from recently. They had made an impromptu call on us some weeks back. We went outside when we saw them pull in the driveway and had a friendly chat. We expected the same when we arrived at their place. Only half the couple emerged, though. Turns out, the husband had a bad sinus infection, which was why he'd been out of touch. Keeping our distance, we had a cheery few minutes of talk and then were on our way. The final stop was the grocery store.

Not much, but you know, the mini-visits were bright spots. I'm a homebody. I love to stay home. But even I occasionally felt the weight of the lockdown before restrictions started to ease. Things are opening up gradually here. Baby steps are fine with me. I keep my mask, wipes, and hand sanitizer near and use them when venturing into stores. I'm in the high-risk group and so is my husband.

For young or old, calling could find a niche even now that things are starting to get back to normal. Whatever normal ends up to be. Brief personal calls would be like quick conversations on social media, only done in fresh air and in person. Because there truly is something special about the human connection, even when done from six feet away.

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