The headline caught my eye.
“A third of Americans don’t know their neighbors.”
That number struck me as unreasonably high and I was drawn into reading the article–likely since I was at that very moment digesting a burger I’d eaten at the home of my next door neighbor.
Basically, the story was about City Observatory’s research that indicated how we, as a society, know far fewer of our neighbors than we did as recently as the 1970s. Researchers blame social media, claiming it’s easier now to keep in touch with our loved ones who live far away, so we spend our time nurturing those relationships rather than starting new. Comments in the section following the article were lamenting the loss, and it got me waxing nostalgic about places I’ve lived and those who have lived around me.
As neighbors go, I’ve been lucky. My new favorite neighbor loves our dog, fills my belly with burgers, and viewed my sneaking a fake leg into her cooler as a challenge rather than a sign I might be disturbed.
I’ve had other neighbors who have been equally cool.
Years back, just days after we’d moved to South Charleston, our big, shaggy dog managed to sneak out through a door we hadn’t yet realized was broken. He embraced his newfound freedom by exploring the neighborhood until he happened across a woman emptying flats of flowers from her car. He was more interested in the car than in her and since she’d left her car’s door hanging open, our ride-mooching pooch hopped in and sat in the passenger sit.
His gamble paid off and she took him for a ride, a few laps around the circle, before driving him back to our house. Which was how we met our first neighbor there, and through her, many more.
Before South Charleston, I’d spent about a decade in Poca. I hadn’t lived there long when I endeavored to dig out an overgrown shrub in the front yard, but the deeper I dug, the larger the root seemed to get. It turned into a Me versus Bush kind of thing. Before long, I’d removed so much dirt and chopped so hard at the root that it attracted the attention (and sympathy) of several neighbors, whom I hadn’t yet met. Soon, it was an Us versus Bush kind of thing. There was chopping and digging and chains and a truck. And by the time we were done, I was part of the neighborhood.
Over the years, we became close. Our kids, and sometimes our pets, traveled from next door to across the street to catty-cornered. We shared leftovers and Christmas candy and Halloween costume parts. We got angry over the same neighborhood injustices, coordinated how much the Tooth Fairy was paying, and helped keep track of who was currently housing our shared wet vac.
And then one moved closer to her parents, one left the state, another took a job near their daughter. We moved to South Charleston, and then moved again.
Didier was already friends with most everyone in his little community of maybe a dozen townhouses when Celeste and I joined him, so it was different this time around. He’d already long since broken the ice.
I love how the homes all face into each other around a little cul-de-sac, and how every now and then, the neighbors will join forces to take on tasks like trimming branches or clearing drains or repainting our sign. On the last occasion, it started pouring rain while we were out cleaning up around the pond, but we were having too much fun to let that to shut us down. Later, one of the neighbors who wasn’t physically able to labor went and picked up pizzas for us, and another neighbor brought over a pitcher of sangria, and we all sat in one of the driveways and ate and talked for a while.
And now, just after I was starting to feel part of somethin
g so nicely established, a For Sale sign showed up in the yard across from us. Two others have announced they’ll soon be moving as well.
I worry their replacements might be part of that third of Americans who aren’t interested in knowing their neighbors, although thankfully, the odds are still two-thirds heavy they won’t.
There’s an old saying about good fences making good neighbors, but I don’t agree. It’s sharing leftovers and wet vacs that does it. Knowing the names of their dogs.
And a pitcher or two of sangria.