Last week, we moved from our small town out to “the country” — to a house beside the river at the edge of the forest.
My son Gray was three months old when we’d moved into our “town house.” It was his first house – the only house he remembered. Every now and then, during our packing moving days a few weeks back, he’d get weepy and tell me he was going to miss “this house.” I asked what some of his favorite things were and what he’d miss the most. His answer was always a different variation of the same idea: He was going to miss the neighbors.
He was going to miss Mr. Andy with the koi fish pond, and his barky dog, Sonny. He was going to miss the Hoheisels – chatting with Bob in the alley and finding bags of “Mr. Hoheisel’s magic green beans” on our back steps. He was going to miss Mr. Rob, who always stopped to talk to us across the picket fence when he got home from work, who brought the boys giant candy canes at Christmas time, who called them all “Little Buddy.”
I knew I’d miss those neighbors too – waving at Jodi across the alley and Lori out in the front yard. Hearing Big John’s stories about my grandfather as we stood in the boulevard. Helping Mrs. Kleikamp catch Chloe when she ran down the street to wag tails with my Riley. I even knew I’d miss the 9:00 alert from Riley that Mark the mailman was heading our way.
It was a wonderful neighborhood – a great place to play in the yard with toddlers and walk to the grocery store on sunny days, stopping briefly to chat with Mr. Coates over disassembled car parts in his alley shop, a place where people smiled at children and bothered to learn their names.
My childhood neighborhood was much the same.
When we were kids, Ted and Kathy were next door. We never had to be afraid to run to the other side of the hedge to retrieve a stray wiffle ball. When we Trick or Treated, my siblings and I could count on special sacks of candy, (complete with full-sized boxes of Cracker Jacks!) — our names written on them in cursive.
As a young married couple, Chad and I lived beside Milton and Dorothy, a senior citizen couple who kept watch over our house and our neighborhood. Milton was forever sweeping off the tarp he’d laid on his garage floor and offering unsolicited tips about gardening. He was the one who taught me to put leaves in the garden in the fall to provide nourishment for the plants in the spring. He was the one who taught me to pluck the suckers off my tomato plants. He always had time for a neighborly chat.
There is something familial about neighbors, especially in small towns. Although many of us preserve boundaries and respect one another’s privacy, there is a casual intimacy to knowing one another’s routines, observing comings and goings, keeping an eye out for one another.
A few years back, on the night my grandfather passed away, I rushed out at midnight to go to the hospital and forgot to turn off the living room lamp and porch light. A day or two later, out in the driveway, I told Rob that my grandfather had died. He offered his condolences, and then said he’d wondered if everything was okay when he left for work at three a.m. and the lights were on. These are the things we notice about the homes, the families with whom we share space.
Our new street is a quiet street with less than ten houses on it. We’re the last house at the dead end. The home beside us is vacant. One of the reasons we chose this place was for the peace and solitude. But I must say, I was a bit sad about the idea that we might not have neighbors to keep track of us, and us of them.
A few days after we moved, as I was heading into town, I drove past a young girl seated at a lemonade stand at the end of our street. I was in a hurry to get where I was going, but I was so excited to see a neighbor that I waved zealously at her and then immediately called my husband at home to walk down with the boys for some lemonade (a.k.a. friends-making!).
A few days ago, there was a knock at my front door, and the same girl and her sister were on our stoop with a picture of a lost bunny rabbit that had escaped from their yard the day before. I promised to keep an eye out for their pet.
These last few days, I’ve been peeking out the window every opportunity I get in case that bunny shows up in my yard. I would love to be the neighbor who helps reunite a young girl with her friend. I would love to be the neighbor who buys lemonade from the stand on the corner, who pauses on the quiet street at dusk to chat about anything – the garden, the mosquitoes, the turkeys, the full moon brightening above the river.