The Hand of Friendship

By Margaret Bishop

The Hand of Friendship

Shortly after moving back to my hometown of Camden, South Carolina, I answered the telephone one afternoon to the friendly greeting of a woman at least some 50-plus years my senior. “Margaret Rose,” she inquired after my childhood moniker. “I just wanted to let you know that the man I saw working in your yard has been known to steal from people around town.” Given the fact that he’d been hired after knocking on our door unsolicited with a rake in hand, she was correct in assuming that we hadn’t done any reference checks. At home with my two small children, I peered nervously out the window as she gave me a complete rundown of his prior history along with the names of the local families he’d scammed. When I hung up the phone, I realized that only in a small town does an acquaintance ride by your house, examine the person in your yard, identify said person, and then follow up with a personal phone call to provide you with a complete work history. Some people may find this sort of helpfulness intrusive, but now that I’m an adult, I like to think of it as the extended hand of friendship.

Don’t get me wrong, there was a period of time in my life when I thought the idea that everyone knew who you were and what you were doing was suffocating at best. When I went off to college as a teenager, I was grateful for my picturesque childhood, but I had no intentions of returning to Camden to live – EVER! Living in complete anonymity in Knoxville, Tennessee, as a young newlywed, was freeing somehow. I never had to worry about stopping to speak to someone in the grocery store, hurting someone’s feelings when making out a party list or thinking twice about leaving the house sans makeup and a shower. After all, the chances of randomly running into someone I knew were slim.

When I moved back to Camden at the age of twenty-nine, I was pregnant with my second child, and even though I was happy to be home, I still had reservations about what daily life in Camden might bring. Would my husband be happy surrounded by folks that had known me since childhood? Would I always be “little Margaret Rose?” In those first few months, I wasn’t sure. It seemed that every trip to Wal-Mart brought me into contact with someone that I hadn’t seen since high school. Many of these chance meetings were a pleasure, but a few left me wishing that I’d abandoned my grocery cart for a hiding spot.

Six years later, I can hardly imagine raising my growing family anywhere except Camden. I still shudder when I stop to consider the potentially tragic outcomes that might have occurred the day my then-2 year old daughter let herself out of the house and wandered into traffic, all in the time it took me to go to the bathroom. In a bigger city, cars may have zoomed by unaware and unconcerned, but the minute I spied my open back door and darted outside, I was greeted by the most welcome voice I’ve ever heard calling: “Margaret, she’s okay. I’ve got her.” A friend driving down the road with her own two children spied my mischievous offspring strolling along and immediately stopped traffic completely to come to her rescue. That particular kindness is probably still the most vividly etched incident in my memory, but it is far from being the only time that my neighbors in Camden – be they friends, family or total strangers – have offered assistance in the best spirit of friendship.

When my family goes out of town, we never have to worry about the safety of our home. With a watchful uncle two doors down and neighbors keeping an eye out from both sides of the street, we are always covered. From packages on the doorstep to phone calls about suspicious vehicles, we always have a sense that someone is watching out for our well-being. Of course, all this caring does come with its share of comedy at times. For instance, there was the vacation that my brother-in-law left a message reporting that there appeared to be smoke coming out of the chimney of our unoccupied home. You can imagine the frantic phone calling that ensued until we confirmed that it was a false alarm. But, I wouldn’t have it any other way. As a parent, my first and foremost concern is the safety of my children, and how lucky am I to have a whole community helping me in this most important endeavor.

The woman that called to warn me about my potentially criminal yard man has passed away now. However, I hope that in remembering her gesture, I can remind myself to never get so caught up in the grind of my everyday life that I forget to look out for those that have been so kind in looking out for me. Life in a small town has its ups and downs, but I truly believe that there is no better place to look when searching for the hand of friendship.

About this writer

  • Margaret Bishop Margaret Bishop and her husband, Matt, reside in Camden, South Carolina, with their three wonderful children (David, Olivia and Thomas) and always entertaining dog, Sugar. In between carpools, Margaret enjoys reading and writing as much as possible.

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