Published in the Rains County Leader on March 28, 2017:
There was a time in the history of this country when people knew their neighbors and were involved in their lives. Unfortunately, that time is long gone, at least in the city.
My family wasn’t very neighborly when I was growing up. My parents were very reserved, private people, and my brother was so busy with various jobs and social engagements that he didn’t have time for the neighbors. That left me, and since I wasn’t allowed to go visiting when everyone else was at work, I watched a lot of “I Love Lucy” reruns.
In the beginning of my first marriage, we socialized with the neighbors quite a bit, especially when we were out working in the yard, but career demands soon put an end to that. When all the hard work paid off, we moved uptown to a neighborhood where everyone had ten-foot privacy fences and electronic garage-door openers. We even paid someone to do the yard work, so we had very few chances to meet the neighbors while trimming the hedges.
Later, when I became single again, I lived in an apartment for a while were neighbors didn’t stay around long enough to develop relationships. I later bought a small garden home, and I did my own yard work, so I met a few neighbors. Most of them were couples, though, and I wasn’t into being a third wheel. There was one Friday when I came from work to an empty house and an empty social calendar. I wondered if I dropped dead at that moment, if anyone would notice before Monday morning when I didn’t show up for work. It was a morbid thought, so I picked up the phone and found a friend from church to go to a movie with me.
Then I met David, and my social calendar was always full. The fall after we married, we decided that my little house was too small, so we bought a larger one. When the weeds began to pop up in the spring, we went out front to do a little grooming, and we were thrilled when the next-door-neighbors walked over and introduced themselves. We became fast friends, but we never met any of the other neighbors except to smile and wave as we passed on the sidewalk or the street.
When we transferred to Florida, we moved into a deed restricted community that had no fences so we at least saw our neighbors from time-to-time. Still, I was so wrapped up in my caregiving duties, and the neighbors were so wrapped up in their own lives, that we had little time for socializing. Then, we moved to Emory, and we discovered how different neighbors are in the country.
One of the things I loved about our new home was the fact that we had no neighbors on any of the properties adjoining ours – and all the trees and thick vegetation gave us a feeling of privacy. It wasn’t long, though, before I learned that the sense of solitude was an illusion. One afternoon we were trying to figure out what to do with a yard that wasn’t bordered with curbs and sidewalks when a couple of guys came by with a truckload of asphalt for sale. By lunchtime the next day, everyone at the Senior Center knew that we had a new parking pad.
At first, the lack of privacy was a little disconcerting, but I soon began to rely on it. We have taken several extended trips since we’ve been here, and it’s a comfort to know that our neighbors know everything that goes on around our home – and that they all have guns!
Recently, I went to McKinney to visit with a friend, and while we were having lunch, I received a panicked text from Connie who lives across the street. Some people just backed a trailer into your driveway, it said. They went into your house and are carrying out furniture. We had placed a successful ad on a garage sale page on Facebook, and the buyers were picking up a table and chairs. Because I was in our only car, she thought the house was empty. It was funny at the time, but if an actual burglary had been in progress, I would have been extremely grateful for her attentiveness.
In addition to feeling like our property is safe, I am comforted by the interest that our country neighbors and friends show for our personal welfare. Two weeks ago I wrote about a walk David and I took in the pollen in our back yard and about the allergy attack it brought on for him. As it turned out, it wasn’t allergies – it was the flu. For the next twelve days or so, he didn’t get out of the house except to go to three different doctors, and although I continued to go to work and church, I hurried home afterward to ply him with pills, potions, and chicken soup.
He’s better now – still tired, but able to get out and about a bit. I’m not sure the medicines really helped, but I know all the neighborly concern we received did wonders. Everywhere I went, people asked how he was doing, and we both received phone calls, texts, and emails checking up on us. After his fever receded, Dirk and Pat from around the corner braved the germs and the messy house to visit for a while. We rearranged the normal seating pattern so neither of them had to sit on the couch with David, but we had a great visit.
Jesus once told a parable to explain to his audience who they should consider to be their neighbor. We call the neighborly hero of that story The Good Samaritan. I think he must have been a good ole country boy.