How could I have lived so long without knowing that “welcome wagon” was a business and not simply volunteers enlisting the support of local businesses in welcoming new neighbors? I had always assumed it was the term used to describe a group of volunteers who made it a point to welcome new people to the neighborhood. Is it naiveté or gullibility that best describes my simplistic view of the world?
My naive belief that Welcome Wagon was an artifact of good, old-fashioned neighborliness was dashed yesterday afternoon, when a woman came to the condo we’re renting until we close on our house. She had left a note on the door while we were out a few days ago, asking us to call her when convenient; my wife called her and arranged a time for her to come by yesterday. She was very pleasant and very welcoming as she delivered a bag full of brochures about the area and a number of coupons from local businesses, some of which were very generous, indeed!
The woman said she was a school teacher and had lived in the area only two years. I was surprised at how young she was, maybe in her late twenties or early thirties, as I had expected these “volunteers” to be retirees who were looking to do good deeds and meet new people.
I should note that neither the note, the card on which she wrote it, nor the woman herself ever used the term “welcome wagon;” I ascribed that term to the interaction. But when I asked her how she got involved in this endeavor, she said her father-in-law had volunteered her to deliver welcome packages when “the woman who owned the business, who was about 85 years old, decided to retire.”
Wait! The “woman who owned the business?” What business? Was this not just nice people welcoming new neighbors?
I slept on the matter last night. This morning, I did a bit of homework. Welcome Wagon, I learned, is a business first formed in 1928 in Memphis by a man named Thomas Briggs. Briggs was inspired by stories of Conestoga “welcome wagons” that embodied “the spirit of warm hospitality and welcome” in the Old West. The business has since gone through several ownership changes and, as evidenced by the visit yesterday, has been imitated by other entrepreneurs.
On the one hand, my gullibility was exposed yesterday afternoon; I feel embarrassed to have been such a simpleton to have thought the visit and the gifts were the outgrowth of pure altruistic neighborliness. On the other hand, though, I am a believer in entrepreneurial endeavors that provide real value and do not focus exclusively on prying money from the unwilling hands of “target customers.”
So, while I would rather have learned that my simplistic world view and my belief that strangers would simply want to welcome us to our new home were correct, I am satisfied to have learned that a business grew from a real effort to extend hospitality to new neighbors.
But I still wonder how I could have reached 60 years old and not known…was I living under a rock?