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Coming Home to Corn Hill

Reprinted from “Third Ward Traits” by Charles Mulford Robinson 1899

The district’s neighborliness perhaps finds its most distinctive expression in those “good byes” and “welcome homes” which it extends to the summer travelers. It is a custom to leave on or about the first of August, at latest, and the travelers do not begin to leak back until two weeks have elapsed. Some of them stay for six. This custom is so well established, the exodus is so complete, that the household owes an explanation to the neighborhood if, having been at home through July, it lingers beyond August first. The most graceful excuse is that “Rochester is so pleasant in summer.” Third warders always accept this explanation and then give theories of their own in discussing it afterwards among themselves.

When a resident is going away for the vacation, everybody knows it and everybody is interested. It is “proper” to call, that is, to run over to the piazza or porch if any of the household is sitting out, and if not to go boldly go to the front door and ring the bell and demand to see the departing tourist that you may express your good wishes. In one case of this sort a family had eighty-two calls before departing. Perhaps it interfered a little with the packing, but how flattering it was, how pleasant! No one would change the custom for the world. It is one of the amenities of Third ward life. It makes you feel as though you were somebody. In a city you have all the fun of village prominence.

As the hour of departure approaches the neighbors are all on the porch, for a detailed account of your plans has long been public property. First, however, there has been the excitement of having your trunks go. No real Third warder would miss that. It is next best fun to the rare removal. She (or he) will note the number of trunks, speculate on their contents, and wonder about the pressure required to close them and the tightness of the straps that, for all the world, are like belts made tight by Thanksgiving dinners.

When you yourself are ready to depart, you receive a volley of nods and smiles and waved hands and shouted adieux that is sure to keep the district dear to your heart however far you travel. But there is a rule, one of those inviolable social laws of the locality that must be lived up to in departing. You must go away in a carriage. It is to be counted as a part of the trip’s expense.

If the Third warder is starting for Europe, and every summer has its little quota of these tourists, it is the thing for the most intimate friends to go to the station. They will make their usual adieux at your house and them “surprise” you by turning up in the station waiting room. If you happen to know one of them is going, and have expostulated sufficiently it is all right if you offer that friend a seat in your carriage to drive “over” and see yourself off! And when the train has drawn out of the station, you can think of your friends as light-heartedly climbing into your carriage and having a very good time driving home in it. Who would exchange so jolly a mode of departure?

The return is more complicated, more elaborate, more systematized. If you have been away only two weeks and have not gone far, you must be content to receive merely a “Glad to see you back.” You must remember that the ward is disguising its feelings, is trying to appear blase, and to give you the impression that you have not traveled far-for a Third warder. If you really had a great trip, the district cannot do too much for you. Your house will be ablaze with light. There will be flowers in all the rooms-not in boxes, but in vases with “welcome home” cards stuck up against them, for your friends will have invaded your sanctum to arrange them. There will be a reception for you on the porch and a triumphal march from the carriage to the steps. And every evening after that there will be callers, until the entire district has paid its respects. It will come in one by one. The visitor will begin by expressing an eagerness to hear “all about your good times,” and then will tell you what-being a Third warder-you are of course most anxious to know, the news and gossip of the town. Your visitor, having reproached you for not telling more about your trip, will promise to come again to hear that. The ward’s whole ceremony of coming and going is singularly sweet, village-like, almost childlike, and one must hope that it will not change. It is a thing to look forward to, and a thing to remember fondly if you ever move away.