Love Thy Neighbor

Whether we meet them at the mailbox or over the fence, good neighbors share much more than simply an address.

When I pull into the driveway, my neighbor from across the street waves at me, and points toward the roof of my house. I step from the car to meet him in the middle of the street. On the way, I notice that our roof is pristine, without a leaf or pine needle in sight.

“He did it again. He was up there with the blower, just goin’ to town.”

“Did he at least tie himself to the chimney this time?” I ask, eyeing the steep pitch of our second story roof.

“Nope. But I watched him, and kept the phone in my hand just in case. He only gets up there when you aren’t here to catch him,” he says, referring to my husband’s obsessive compulsive need to court disaster each time he cleans off the roof. “He’s crazy, you know.”

It is a clear case of the pot calling the kettle black, and I shake my head. The bright yellow of the “For Sale” sign in his front yard catches my eye, and my heart sinks a little. I am going to miss this man who has been my husband’s cohort in crime, and the one who gleefully relates their escapades when they return from the woods scratched and battered and grinning from ear to ear.

For twenty years I commuted almost an hour each way to work, and my husband mostly worked out of town. We rarely saw our home in daylight, and were hardly there enough to even qualify as residents. The people across the street were just smiles and waving hands in cars, as we all scurried off in different directions. But a few years back we left the rat race, and discovered the treasures that had been right there under our noses all along – our neighbors.

I realize that it might not have worked out that way, and it doesn’t for everyone. You can very rarely pick your neighbors, and it can go terribly wrong, leaving you nowhere to run. (We had a downstairs neighbor once that actually squished me between partially closed doors to chew me out for walking too loudly.)

There are neighbors who cannot get enough of your business, and won’t let you get the mail without a cross-examination, and those who “borrow” your stuff, never to return it. There are the creepy kinds that you suspect might have a body under a tarp in the trunk, and there is nearly always one who has thirty-two cats, and is oblivious to the fact that most of them use your flower pots as port-o-lets.

So it is an unexpected blessing when you find the perfect fit. I think back to the folks who have lived next door to my parents for over fifty years. Over the course of those years, they and my parents celebrated weddings and births, mourned tragedies and losses, and shared the everyday minutia that makes up a lifetime of living side by side. Hardly anyone stays in one place long enough to have that kind of connection any more.

When we moved into our neighborhood, the folks across the street were elderly. We rarely saw them and didn’t know them very well, and I worried about them because they were very frail. When I received a frantic phone call from the husband one day, I immediately assumed they needed help. As it turned out, he was calling to tell me my husband was passed out in the front yard from chopping tree roots on a blistering hot day. When I ran out the front door, they waved and smiled from their picture window.

All too soon, he was gone and with too much house for her to keep up alone, the house went on the market and was sold to a lovely couple with two girls—the youngest right about our daughter’s age. We were delighted, but work and school, and ballgames and cotillion and weekends at the lake kept us on the go, so we never really made a connection.
It wasn’t until my husband retired and I began working from home that we were home enough to get to know them, and to realize what we had been missing. Since that time, we’ve been blessed to experience the kind of kinship my parents had with their neighbors. We, too, have celebrated weddings and births, mourned tragedies and losses, and shared the everyday minutia.

But continuity is a luxury in today’s neighborhoods, and even though we knew it was coming, the day the yellow sign went up across the street, my husband and I looked at each other with our lips all but trembling.

“I guess they’re really serious,” my husband sighed.

I nodded my head, “They’re breaking up with us.”

Our neighbors are only moving across town, and they are the kind of friends that we will forever hold dear, but it won’t be the same. There is something about meeting at the mailbox with sleep still in your eyes, or in the middle of the street with arms loaded with groceries, which makes the shared moments feel more intimate.

There will be other neighbors in the house across the street. I am sure they will be lovely people, but they may not think it’s their job to keep watch when you-know-who gets on the roof. They won’t have known our daughter as a little girl, or remember the huge pine tree that once leaned perilously toward our house. They won’t know how long it took to get the puppy house broken or that it is okay to make fun of me to my face when I’m in sweaty, nasty yard clothes.

We won’t know their grandchildren’s names or where their daughter’s new house is, or whether or not they can bake a rum cake that makes your mouth water just to think about it. But the fact of the matter is that it probably won’t be long before we start thinking about downsizing, so we probably won’t have the benefit of years of shared experiences with the new owners anyway. And eventually, we’ll move some place and become the new folks someone else will wonder about and wish were more like the people that lived there before.

It has been said that we become neighbors when we are willing to cross the road for one another. We’ve crossed the road many a time – fourteen years is a good, long run by today’s standards. We’ll cross other roads down the line; most of us will cross many before our days are done. May we all find such good neighbors waiting on the other side.

By Susan Frampton