There’s a huge termite tent covering the house down the lane behind mine; the house just sold and a new family is moving in. That means Angie is gone. Angie was my neighbor for 40 years, and having reached the distinguished age of 90, has moved to live near her sons.
Through the years, Angie shared our joy at the birth of three daughters, while we watched her children march through middle school and high school. Angie was the emergency contact when the girls were in elementary school, having the distinct honor of retrieving one daughter from 1st grade when the phone call came that she had head lice and the school was unable to get ahold of me.
Every Halloween, we went trick or treating first to Angie’s where she oohed and ahhhed over the girls’ costumes. Every Christmas, she smiled at her door while we caroled and sang into the silent night, and every Easter she acted delighted and surprised to receive yet another See’s chocolate egg. And now Angie is gone.
Angie came to our birthday parties and to backyard May Day teas. Her yard offered a shortcut to school, and her dog was a playful companion. One of my girls was a flower girl in Angie’s daughter’s wedding. We both shared the sorrow of losing husbands. We called each other on those dark nights when the winds were high, and the electricity was out.
Through the years of vacations, we watched out for each other’s homes, brought in the mail and newspapers for each other, checked to be sure pipes hadn’t burst and water heaters hadn’t leaked, and that the roses were getting enough water.
And of course there was the occasional neighborly disagreement about a tree hanging over the fence too far, or the placement of the address plaque on a fence, or letting the hedge grow too high. None of that matters now. What matters is that our neighborly relationship was strong enough to weather the hard stuff. Angie and I learned that through the years.
In the words of Mr. Rogers, “It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood, a beautiful day for a neighbor, would you be mine? Could you be mine? Won’t you be my neighbor?” Unfortunately, many neighborhoods exist where people don’t even know the names of their neighbors, let alone have any interaction with them. It often just takes one person willing to initiate a connection, a smile and a wave across yards, and the effort is worth it.
A neighborhood is a microcosm of possible caring and connectedness. It is a place where daily life is shared as well as cups of sugar and lawn mowers. It is a place of being aware of what others might need, and how we might meet that need. Neighborhoods take on a unique character depending on the people who live there, and who sets the tone for interaction.
Neighborly traditions develop and are shared at holidays as the street is blocked off for the July 4th celebration with a bicycle parade and sparklers flying. A friend recently told me of her highly organized neighborhood Easter egg hunt which has been happening in her neighborhood for years. Such an event is full of memories for families and a perfect way to invite new neighbors into the fold and fun of people who enjoy celebrating life together. My friend’s college daughter was determined not to miss the egg hunt this year!
For your children, a neighborhood has the potential for establishing a great foundation of welcome and security. Knowing the names of the people who surround them, knowing that help is readily available if needed, and that there are other families who perhaps attend the same school or church in the area are all stabilizing factors for children.
With the increasing tension in our country and the world, our homes should be a place where we retreat to rest and recover from busy days of work and life’s complications.
Neighborhoods hopefully provide a place of familiarity surrounding our homes, and through interactions with neighbors, parents can model for children an awareness and caring for others, helping out when the need is there, and sharing the simple pleasures of daily life.
It’s true that Angie is gone. But the sweet memories of sharing 40 years of life as neighbors remain, even as we plan ways to welcome the new family that will soon make their home at the end of the lane. Mr. Rogers would march right up to their moving van and say with a smile, “Won’t you be my neighbor?”