TRAVERSE CITY — Long before text messages and email replaced personal conversation, neighbors used to wave to each other, chat across the back fence, and along a small road in Antrim County, gather each day on a bench beside a small cluster of mailboxes to wait for the mailman.
“It was a completely different time our kids know nothing about,” said Pamela Harrington, of Atwood, who, along with her sister Patty, grew up during the ’50s and ’60s in a house on Antrim Lane. “Walking to the mailboxes on the corner of Old Dixie Highway and Tyrell Beach Road was a way for neighbors, including our parents, Dorothy and Hiram Jones, to congregate — a daily ritual where neighbors could touch base, discuss the weather and catch up on what was going on.”
Harrington said the daily meetings continued for 20 years or so, until one day the bench just disappeared.
“People speculated that the bench was stolen, but no one knew for sure. Around that time there were a lot of housing turnovers. Older people either left or died, so the bench was forgotten,” she said.
The bench again came into focus during a family get-together last summer that included Patty, her husband Doug Warman and daughter Hannah from Vancouver, Wash. Patty Warman remembers walking to the mailbox and waiting.
“Everybody waited, and everybody talked,” Warman said of the daily social gatherings of her childhood. “We thought people would still like to sit, and it would encourage socialization like the old days.”
“Talking about the bench opened a floodgate of childhood memories, and we all thought we should have a new bench to recreate the sense of community we used to have,” Harrington said.
Doug Warman, an architect and builder, designed and built a modern version of the old bench. Hannah gave it a bright, artsy paint job.