We can probably all agree that home has a lot to do with family and friends and *if you’re lucky* your home includes both. But then there are neighbors. And neighbors can make or break a good home.
A few years back, Maran and David bought a home they absolutely loved. They were excited. They moved in. And quickly, very quickly, in just a few months, they moved out.
The neighborhood was great. It had everything they wanted. But the neighbors were a problem. There was no way they could live with them. I won’t even bother to tell you why because it doesn’t matter. They knew if they stayed, they’d be miserable.
When I was a kid, the only neighbors I knew were the Puffers. I’m pretty sure they lived above the grocery store but I can’t be positive because I only visited them once, when I was selling Christmas cards as a fundraiser for my school. Mrs. Puffer was very nice and flipped through the catalog as I stared around their living room. I was maybe seven or eight years old and there by myself. In the 1970s, kids were often without parental supervision. Even on the south side of Chicago. No adult accompanied us Trick-or-Treating or to collect money for the local paper we delivered or when we sold candy bars, cookies, or Christmas cards. It was a time when folks still knew and trusted their neighbors.
Except that I really didn’t know anybody.
I remember the summer afternoon on our front porch when my mom squatted in front of me and said, “Go make friends.” Motioning to my sister on the porch, she continued, “Your sister has friends. You can too!” But where? I said. How? “Just walk down the sidewalk. Go all the way around the block. You’re bound to run into some kids and when you do, introduce yourself.”
I didn’t want to go. But my mother and sister were adamant, so I went. Down the concrete stairs, across the alley, and down the street. I was a whopping five years old. And this, dear reader, explains a lot about me to this day.
That outing didn’t yield the success my mother had hoped for. By the time I got home, the only neighbors I knew were still the Puffers.
At age eleven, I moved to the other side of the city with my mom and siblings. Instead of three-story brownstone flats, this neighborhood had row upon row of single-family brick bungalows with grass patches in front and sidewalks. In the back were larger grass squares and single-car garages. Chain link fences separated the yards so you could see other families clear down the street.
Considering how close we all lived to each other, you’d think we would know our neighbors. But we didn’t. Except for the old man to the west of us. I only met him once, when he stopped by to tell my mom that he had painful hemorrhoids and would be going to the hospital soon to have them removed. Too much information? Yes. Especially for the first time you meet.
The way we build homes today is partially to blame for not knowing our neighbors. Newer neighborhoods often have garages out front that are attached to the house. This allows us to drive in and out without ever encountering another person. In these homes, the front door is often obscured – set back and rarely used. Long gone are the days of big front porches where one would sit and watch the street, greeting passers-by.
My father lived in a Chicago neighborhood where folks sat on their porches. His home was broken into twice but each time it was the neighbors who called the police. This reminds me of the old boozers who lived in their cars on the corner by my apartment in San Francisco back in 1986. One night, a friend tried to wake me by jumping on the garage roof next door and throwing rocks at my window. The guys who lived in their cars chased her away. Honestly, I appreciated that. I bought them a bottle of wine as a thank you. It was good to know they were looking out for me.
Part of my moving to Idaho was a romantic idea of what small-town living might mean – in particular, knowing your neighbors. Sure enough, it was small enough that you were likely to run into someone you knew at the grocery store and almost always when you were in a hurry or looking your worst. But as for knowing my neighbors, not really. I knew a lot of folks, but not those that lived on my street.
Then I moved to Picabo, with a population of 150 or 65, depending on if you believe the U.S. Census or the ranchers who gathered every morning for coffee at the gas station/convenience store/post office/fly shop/diner off the two-lane highway that runs through town. Picabo is so small that everyone knows everyone. So yeah, I knew my neighbors. But as a single woman, Democrat, and conservationist, I never quite fit in.
There are only six streets in Picabo. To the left and right of my home were empty lots. The empty lot to the south of me was the end of the street. On the other side was ranchland where cows grazed in the springtime with their calves.
Across the street was the neighbor who built and sold me my house. She didn’t like me. After eight years of living across from her, she started leaving her three black labs outside when she went to work, and those dogs barked incessantly. I called her and left concerned messages. I wrote her nice notes. She ignored me. Finally, I called animal control. She stopped leaving the dogs out and continued to not speak to me. That sucked but it could have been worse.
Now I live in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I’ve been in the same rental for three and a half years. And for the first time, I know my neighbors. Like, a LOT of my neighbors. More than a dozen that I know by name, know their dogs’ names, and willingly stand around and talk to, catch up.
We look out for each other. We send each other funny texts. Two of my neighbors will drop in on Mazie if I’m gone all day. Another family will sometimes bring their dog over to stay. A few of us get together for burgers once in a while. Another has young children that sometimes visit to show me treasures they’ve found or sell me something they’ve created. (Young entrepreneurs)
I live in a town of 400,000 people and, for the first time in my life, I finally have neighbors that make me feel at home.
What about you? Do you know your neighbors? Do you know them by name and have their phone numbers in case of emergency? Do you know one? Maybe Two? Four or more?
Are you an introvert who prefers to stay anonymous, an extrovert who says hello to everyone, or somewhere between? Do you have neighbors you’d like to avoid?
I would love to hear your stories and hope you will leave a comment. Your responses actually help with my research. Thank you!