Yesterday I went to a small party in Manhattan, IL, on the southern fringe of Chicago’s Suburban area. The going away party was for a senior member who grew up there. She had been in assisted living but was moving to live with family in Texas so she could get more day-to-day help.

My Maggie grew up in Manhattan, so I know most of these people. They are friendly to outsiders like me, and they are helpful and supportive to people who grew up there. I felt welcome from the moment we walked in the front door and I enjoyed talking with them during the three hours we were there. After we left I found myself thinking how much we take the support of friends and family for granted.

Manhattan has grown in recent years, but it maintains its small town appeal. It stands in contrast to other Chicago Metropolitan areas; neighborhoods or suburbs where neighbors don’t know each other’s names. I know these people are friendly too, but they lack a sense of community. It’s not their fault. That’s just the way things have turned out. We’re all busy working at our jobs, taking care of our kids, and doing our best to maintain our property.

I think the difference is longevity and familiarity. Forty years ago everyone knew everyone in Manhattan. This is still a major factor in their sense of community. Joe knows when Bob, who lives six blocks away, buys a car because neighbors keep everyone up-to-date on community happenings.  And if something went wrong with the car, Joe might offer to help Bob repair it.

Visiting Manhattan makes me feel like something is missing in my own life. It reminds me of the South side of Chicago when I was a kid. In those days before moms went to work, every mom looked out for every kid in their community. You felt safe. And you behaved because you didn’t want to face someone else’s mom if she caught you doing something wrong. She might tell your parents.

Perhaps our cities and suburbs have grown too large. Perhaps it’s not possible to maintain a sense of community. I hope they (we) find a way. Community support is second only to family support in maintaining a smoothly functioning society.