Monday, May 28, 2012

Won't You Be My Neighbor?

In the past two months or so, I have finally come to know my neighbors.  After almost thirteen years of living here.  (It's worth noting that the characters I'm about to introduce you to have mostly moved in more recently than that.  But I didn't know any of the previous ones, either.)

Growing up across town, I knew all my neighbors.  Maybe it was because I played outside a lot more then.  Or because those were different times.  Or because I was a public school student, and it was mandatory to know them so that I could hit them up for fundraisers roughly a dozen times a year.  But I knew everyone then - not just next door but around the cul-de-sac, down the street, and in the other parts of the housing edition.

These days, I don't live in a housing edition.  Just a simple street we kind of refer to as "the old part of town."  It's quaint and fairly quiet, and I sort of like it that way.  But aside from the elder who lives on the other side of the street directly behind me, I haven't really known anyone here.  Names, maybe, from sitting on the porch and eavesdropping, but not confidently enough to call them by that name.  I had been around here and there, hanging out in the neighborhood, waiting for an opportunity but never really finding one (I guess I wasn't looking that hard. Maybe I was hesitant about me.).  I walked over a couple of Januarys ago when the neighbor's garage was engulfed in flames, talked with the woman of the house for almost ten whole seconds, and backed off into the street without so much as introducing myself.  She recognized me as the neighbor, but that's as far as it went.

Then several months ago, I was trimming the tree in our backyard and hauling large branches around to the curb when I saw my elderly (I guessed 63 later in the conversation and she said I was way off, but she doesn't look it) neighbor out trying to trim her tree.  I knew her son's name but still don't know if he lives there full-time or just comes to torture his mother, and I had a guess at her name, but played it safe and called out, "Hey neighbor!"  You want me to come trim that tree for you?

Because even when I haven't been the most outgoing social neighbor, I've always been helpful.  And it occurred to me even then that this woman I'd never really met in a faded workin' outdoors sundress and big floppy hat and soft shoes should not be trimming her own tree.  These things, I notice.  I was hot and sweaty and exhausted at 9 in the morning and sort of hoping she wouldn't take me up on it but prepared that she would as I walked over and struck up a conversation.  We didn't talk about much that day, but we learned each other's names.  Though I still call her neighbor, and she still calls me kiddo.  (And I still offer to trim her tree, and she still says there's no reason for me to do that.)

Since then, I don't know - a slow friendship has kind of developed.  I rang her doorbell when my book came out.  She walked over to see what I was doing in the flower bed and what all those logs were when I was building my mother's present a few weeks ago.  We wave at each other as we pass by in our cars or wander out to get the mail.  And if we're both just hanging around with seeming nothing to do, you can find me on her porch kicking back, chatting about nothing in particular.  Sometimes, she comes over here.  And she insists she's going to make me some tabbouleh.  (She used to be a chef.)

Now, this neighbor is the neighbor, if you know what I mean.  She's the glue that holds this ragtag group together.  Everyone knows her, and she knows everyone.  She knows what's going on and what's going down.  If you get to know her, you'll get to know the others.  Just give it time.

And so over the past several months, it's developed.  I noticed the next-door neighbor pregnant, then gone for a few days and bam! a new baby well before there should have been one, and I offered my services to help her in any way she needed as her husband went back to work and she was left recovering from a C-section with an infant in tow.  I've had a handful of conversations with the handyman working for my neighbor on the other side, who is a snowbird and just got back for the season, but isn't overly friendly and would probably prefer not to be bothered.  The handyman is a nice guy, though.  Bad handyman.

In March, the man who lives across the street and whose garage burned down rang the doorbell.  Turns out, as suspected by looking at all the machinery in his driveway and watching he and a few buddies rebuild an even better garage in a matter of a few weeks, he's a contractor.  Sitting on his porch, smoking his cigar (which I can smell all the way over here), he'd said the sun hit the house just right and he couldn't believe the hail damage.  If we were interested, he'd give us an estimate on fixing it up for us.  So we checked into it, filed a claim, and now the guy is orchestrating an overhaul of this hail-damaged abode.  The new roof went on last week, and in my sense of connectedness, I even had a few conversations with the roofers.  The neighbor/contractor is headed over to start new siding and gutters as soon as he finishes our common neighbor (the elderly lady)'s house.  She got hit by the hail, too.  (It was big as racquetballs here!)  I'm having multi-weekly conversations with him about just about everything, and he may even hire me on to help with the siding since his new assistant has apparently decided to not show up more days than not without even a phone call, and I'm pretty handy at stuff like that.

There's the guys in the two houses on the other side of him who wave now, now that I seem to be the friendly type.  And the newly-retired one is almost always out in just his shorts, landscaping in his yard and offering to help in this one.  Snowblower, weedeater, you name it - this guy's ready to help.  He's so cute, too.  Whenever he leaves the driveway and his wife is inside, he honks and waves goodbye to her.  He waves to me, too.  They're the old mainstays on the street.  Been here for who knows how long.

Then, of course, a couple of Fridays ago, when my dog decided to have a seizure at 10:30 at night, the young couple with their now several-months-old son didn't hesitate to come running over.  They said at the time, they couldn't make out what was wrong, but the guy had thought someone had broken into the house.  He came ready for whatever he found...and he knelt in the living room with my big girl Kiira, who has never done anything but bark at him across the fence, and just pet her while she was tossing herself around and drooling all over the floor.  That's right - I have a neighbor who would beat up a bad guy for me.  Or pet my dog as the need arises.

So I'm getting a little home here.  A little community that I've watched out my window but never felt connected to until all these little pieces started coming together.  I was going to tell you why it matters, but this is going longer than I anticipated.  So I'll tell you tomorrow what difference it makes and why you need to find your community, too.

No comments:

Post a Comment