One morning in Port Shoreham, back in the late 1980s, a young woman prompted by a profound sense of neighbourliness impressed a couple of city girls by showing off her new pony, all of 12 hands tall.
At the sight of the hoofed beast loping down the stone path towards our family homestead, my eldest daughter (who was eight at the time) exclaimed: “Yikes, get me outta here; there’s a camel comin’! I need to make a call.”
As I remember, so did I – but not about a horse.
Some weeks earlier, I had yanked my young family from the cacophony and congestion of Toronto and determined to live more convivially, though never impecuniously, in Guysborough County, Nova Scotia.
So, as my kid marvelled at the free-range livestock, I was on the phone attempting to explain to my editor in Ontario’s biggest metropolis why a paying gig in Yarmouth did not entail a mere 20-minute drive down the highway.
The conversation went something like this:
Rewrite Man: “What you mean you can’t file that piece on Wednesday?”
Yours Truly: “It’s already Monday.”
Rewrite Man: “So, it’s just a colour story. What’s the problem?”
I was about to give up when a disembodied voice joined the discussion.
“Look,” the grumbling male baritone said, “it’ll take him the whole day just to get there from here. Then, he has to do the work, jump in the car and spend another day driving all the way back. When do expect him to write the thing?”
To which I responded: “Uh, yeah. . .what he said.”
I did not know then (and I do not know now) who that fellow was, but his ghostly presence all those years ago confirmed for me another dimension of distinctly rural neighbourliness in the setting years of the 20th century in this part of the world: the party line.
I was reminded of this last month when the CBC reported the following: “Canada’s largest telecommunications group is getting mixed reviews for its plan (to) collect massive amounts of information about the activities and preferences of its customers. Bell Canada began asking its customers in December for permission to track everything they do with their home and mobile phones, internet, television, apps or any other services they get through Bell or its affiliates. In return, Bell says it will provide advertising and promotions that are more tailored to their needs and preferences.”
Nowadays, of course, we shrink in terror at the passing thought that somebody could be listening in on us. After all, shadowy hackers are always ready to steal our identities. The “Deep State” is perpetually out for our hides.
Still, once upon a time, before the Internet and depending on where you lived, almost nothing was private. In the days when two or more families shared a telephone connection, you could be sure someone – a stranger, an acquaintance, a neighbour – always knew at least a morsel of your business. Twitter didn’t invent the grapevine.
Naturally, it worked both ways.
I recall, for example, hearing part of an exchange between two people that, for sheer raciness, could easily compete with anything Kim Kardashian now chooses to post on Instagram. Of course, as prolonged eavesdropping wasn’t, and isn’t, my thing, I quietly cradled the receiver and went back to my episode of Coronation Street. (Oh, Percy Sugden. . .You’re such a busy body).
Days after my daughter’s equine awakening, she breathlessly shared her experience in a telephone call to a chum in Toronto. Not long after, she received a neatly-wrapped, locally postmarked envelope festooned with ribbons.
The card read: “Horses are fun, and so are you!”
For an evident breach of privacy, that’s about as neighbourly as it gets.
(Recently published in The Guysborough Journal)