What's the current thinking about having neighbors? If I believe the house hunting shows on HGTV (OK, I admit I'm a bit addicted to Love It or List It and Property Brothers), it's not having them. Or if you have them, it's important not to see them. On those shows, the kiss of death for a real estate listing is going into a backyard and seeing other homes.
September 28 is National Good Neighbors Day. It seems like the perfect time to share my thoughts about neighbors. And because I actually like having them, those of you hunting for a home in which you see no other house from your open concept main floor windows should stop reading now.
As a former English major, my first association to the word "neighbor" is the poem Mending Wall by Robert Frost.
The most famous line in it, "good fences make good neighbors," is often misunderstood. Frost describes meeting his neighbor who lives beyond the hill every spring to put back the stones that have fallen from the wall separating their properties.
I beg forgiveness for offering an abridged version of the poem, and hope you follow the link to read the whole thing:
"There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, 'Good fences make good neighbors'...
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down..."
Like Frost, I too wonder what folks are walling out when they don't want to see neighbors. Having grown up in Detroit on a child-filled block, I loved being able to run free outside with whatever kids showed up that day. Even when my family moved to suburbia, it was a neighbor-filled block. Borrowing the proverbial cup of sugar was no problem at all.
When I started my own family, after living in a couple of apartments, my husband and I looked for a home in our neighborhood. We wanted to be near the friends we had met in our apartment. We wanted our kids to be able to walk to school. We wanted to talk to our neighbors over the fence.
When I think about our neighbors, it's mostly good. Of course, there was the delinquent boy down the block who broke into our garage. There were the kids who came through our alley and broke the basketball net hanging off the garage. There was the girl down the block who came over every morning and never seemed to need to be home. But my main memories are happy ones:
- Sending my son off to kindergarten hand-in-hand with the little girl next door.
- Calling my neighbor to watch my two older kids when I went into labor with the third.
- Helping my daughter and her best friend next door string a rope between their bedroom windows that enabled them to pass a basket filled with treasures back and forth.
- Looking out for each others mail and homes (even caring for each others cats back in the day) for 35 years of vacations.
One of my daughters moved from a lovely house on a quiet suburban street because it was not really a neighborhood. In the six years she lived there, her kids were pretty much the only ones playing outside. Without sidewalks, they had limited opportunity to practice riding bikes or scooters. In all of those years, I never saw the neighbors over her backyard fence. I only knew they existed because their dogs barked when they let them out.
In her new neighborhood, there are some inconveniences. It's harder to park and noisier (close to the el stop and fire station). But there are sidewalks, front porches, and kids running all over the block, playing with whoever comes outside. People stop to say hello and chat. Play dates just happen without parents needing to record them in their iPhones and drive somewhere. I'm sure she could borrow that cup of sugar if she needed it.
In addition to being a Robert Frost loving former high school English teacher, I was an early childhood educator for 30 years. So my other association to neighbors is Mr. Rogers. I was a huge fan of his neighborhood. I still remember the folks who popped in - Joe Negri, owner of the music shop, and Mr. McFeely, the "speedy delivery" man. There were 18 recurring neighbor roles on the show plus tons of guest stars who showed up in the neighborhood.
When Mr. Rogers donned his famous red sweater and sang,
"It's a beautiful day in this neighborhood,
A beautiful day for a neighbor,
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?"
I always wanted to say "yes." In our increasingly iWorld, perhaps some actual rather than virtual communities would enrich our lives. What do you think?