Friday, April 5, 2013

Good Neighbors: Visit Early, Visit Often

A common complaint heard these days is that neighbors just aren’t neighborly anymore. It’s nothing like when we were kids, the curmudgeons will say. My response: When was the last time you made the first contact? That’s what I thought.

A few weeks ago, some good neighbors: the kind who will feed your dog when you’re on vacation, moved out. I saw the hubby loading up a trailer with boxes, and yelled across the cul-de-sac ( the favored form of communication around here). I said “I’d come help you with that, but . . . I don’t want you to move!” We’re going to miss him and his wife and their sweet little daughter. We’ve loved watching her grow up, from the first toddling steps on the driveway, to waiting in her little lawn chair when she hears the ice cream truck, to wearing her raincoat and galoshes while performing as the “best water sprinkler jumper in the world”. (Her Daddy’s designation).

In a matter of only a day or two, we walked over as another trailer was being unloaded into the same garage. We introduced ourselves to the young couple who is bringing a new little girl- and Bonus- her baby brother to our neighborhood. Ah- potential Halloween monsters for trick or treating. They’ll fit right in. We may not have been a proper welcome wagon- no time to bake a cake- but a handshake and a howdy-do most likely went a long way in making them feel welcome. They said the lady who lives between us in the cul-de-sac had already been over. She’s quick, that one.

Developing next-door relationships takes work, but the rewards are remarkable. When I was growing up on a similar very close “circle”, our next-door neighbor’s basement was the preferred destination when the tornado sirens blew. She had a key to our house, and would make use of it to bring us homemade treats and candy. It seemed she didn’t miss a holiday, from the biggies like Christmas and Easter all the way down to Valentines and St. Patrick’s. There’s nothing to ease the pain of homework like settling it on the dining room table next to a fresh batch of cupcakes.

Other neighbors with children became life-long friends. Some of the same kids that were on our middle of the street baseball teams now share their nuggets of wisdom, along with pics of kids and grandkids on Facebook.

My husband grew up where the houses were not quite as close. His neighbors were actually cousins, and they spent a lot of time together. Their daddies spent the whole day driving trucks  together, their moms and grandma quilting and canning. You can still get James and his sister and those girls laughing by mentioning a certain pony ride, or the egg shampoos that were practiced by the future hair-dresser in the bunch.

The street where we raised our kids was marked by chain-link fences. Once again, no need for telephones here. We’d stand in our yards and holler.  The man across the street was particularly famous for this. He claimed to be able to predict when my parents were coming for a visit by our lawn-mowing schedule. Not entirely true, but it made for a good story.

The same man and I once shared the care and upkeep of a stray dog. He started it, by placing a pan of water outside his fence on a hot day. I continued with spare dog food. I was already taking meals to our own dogs in the back, so a walk to the front fence was not that difficult. Soon, the friendly English setter  mix was named Rascal, as he managed to get inside the front gate and dig some really good “wallering” holes. Over the fence one day, I asked Carl what would happen when the weather got colder. After all, we were responsible for keeping the dog close by. We couldn’t just let him freeze. No answers that day, but within a week, a very sturdy dog house appeared at the end of Carl’s driveway.

Once labeled as being nosy - watching out for each other is now encouraged by the local police. Neighborhood watch groups are invaluable to those who protect and serve. It’s now politically correct to know which vehicles are commonly parked in front of each house. We learn each other’s work schedules, and notify each other of vacations. The better to be neighborly, my dear.

It takes a little effort, but it’s still very possible to have the kind of neighborhood Mr. Rogers would be proud to sing about. Smiles, waves, retrieving mis-thrown newspapers and improperly delivered mail are all free of charge, and make a huge difference. To have a good neighbor: Be One.


Nichole Hall said...

You are so right about neighbors not reaching out like they used to. It's even more so in the north. When I first moved here, my neighbor brought over some food and introduced herself and we've become lifelong friends. I wish people would get back to the good ole days when the town would pitch in to rebuild your barn when it burnt to the ground. This post has reminded me to make a good effort in meeting our neighbors at our new place! Thanks for the encouragement Jenny!

Jenny McLeod Carlisle said...

Thanks for the comment, Nichole. I love our neighborhood. There are so many who won't give up on each other. All ages, races and backgrounds. Very encouraging, indeed.