I live in a gated community of condominium townhomes in the greater Toronto area (GTA). I have to lead with that because it makes everything else I say sound important and classy 😊.
We have one entrance/exit for use by vehicles and pedestrians and a second one that can only be used by pedestrians. We pay a monthly maintenance fee to ensure that the gardens are tended to, snow is plowed, and occasional exterior repairs and upgrades are done sans cost to us. Some owners rent their units out; and since am not sure what percentage of owners primarily live here, I won’t hazard a guess. This all to say we are for all intents and purposes a physically tightly knit community.
And in almost four years of proud ownership, I hardly know any of my neighbours. There are those that wave mechanically at me when I walk by from work (what is it with North Americans and looking down on people that use transit…neigh choose to use transit- this will be a topic for another blog for sure). I met one of those wavers right outside the front wall of our development and when I tried to smile and say hello, he appeared to pick up his pace and walk faster away from me. I was a stranger to him despite the daily wave at me from the safety of his driveway-and a shared water bill.
This is in total contrast to how I grew up. We lived on a 25 hectare property back in the home country (again please be thoroughly impressed then promptly dismiss this for the fluff that it is😉). On it was our house right by the main thoroughfare, my dad’s brother and his family lived halfway through the tract of land and my grandmother and my aunt lived on the very back side. We had three squatter families that my grandfather had allowed to build and live rent free and there was also a stretch of rental units, which supposedly one of my great uncles had been given free reign by my same grandfather to build and collect rent from. The occupants of these units were engaged in all sorts of debauchery (such as alcohol consumption and late into the night dancing-the horror! ) and we were forbidden to go there on threat of death! I was saddened when that entire property burnt down in a fire, when I was perhaps 11 years old because I’d been preparing to channel my teenage angst in that forbidden zone 😊.
The properties in the entire village were similarly occupied, albeit with less squatters and larger nuclear and extended families. We identified each area by the patriarch family names and eventually public transit stops came to be identified the same way. Most pieces of land were occupied by owners, with very few cases of tenants so we “knew” most of the residents. The air quotes are deliberate because while I couldn’t tell the name of everyone that belonged to family X, there was always an identifying marker that aligned individuals with their families. Random things like darker skin tones, big round eyes, tall lanky sons, loud arrogant uncles (yes that was very family specific) and for the most part, anomalies only arose as they married outsiders and by then I was too old to care about every little child born in the neighbourhood.
Around Christmas time, there was always a rise in crimes in the form of home break-ins. I dreaded hearing the siren call of a mother or grandmother screaming for help and announcing “uuuwwwiiii….we have been found” (this doesn’t translate well into English)
My dad would grab his sword from its sheath (and no, I am not making this up) and run out, sometimes sans shirt to rescue those that had the misfortune of being discovered in their hiding places [aka homes] by the thieves that year. We would huddle in the living room, waiting for our gallant father to return with a noble announcement that said thief was caught and punished promptly (justice was meted out swiftly and I hate to say it sometimes with more brutality than warranted chicken thievery but again, I digress).
Everyone knew everyone else, down to the sound of their screams. I later learnt that the wailers had an unspoken rule to spread the word and operated a relay system of sorts. These secondary wailers were often more dramatic, perhaps on account of not being in any imminent danger themselves and a bit short on, ergo liberal with specifics. My original cry above would translate to “uuwwwiii family X has lost the chicken and goat they’d bought to entertain their relatives who’ve travelled all the way from province X. and as you are aware the father of the house was fired last month. Please come and help!!”.
As dramatic as this was, it was also quite effective; one such time the scene of the crime was a good 10 kilometers from our house! I imagine the thieves probably hated this system. There were several cases of the stolen items found abandoned a distance from the scene of the crime, perhaps upon realization that the secondary screamer’s details were too close to the truth.
Yes, my upbringing does sound like the wild west, and yes it was as scary as it reads. Perhaps all my neigbhours here have similar stories in their upbringing but can’t bring themselves to decide if we’d be the thieves, the criers or the victims in the above scenario so choose to avoid us all together. Heck, I can’t place most of them either and have taken to wearing super dark glasses as I walk, which I find to be a good deterrent to forced eye contact.
If only there was a way to build these bridges because in the end, no matter how earnestly my dad and eventually my grown-up brothers ran out in the middle of the night, it was always the next door neighbour to the victim that really made a difference.