It forced us outside. Kids and adults. My family. The people next door. The folks next to them. With proximity came conversation and then friendship. It was a small community, a neighborhood. Its members looked out for each other, supported each other in crises, enjoyed each other in better times. And ratted to parents when a kid misbehaved.
There was no obvious common bond, other than location and probably similar economic status—and the pleasures of shared closeness.
In my parents’ backyard I sank two tin cans and announced the existence of a golf course. The neighborhood played. If someone felt like putting on a bumpy imperfect lawn, they arrived with some balls and a club and went to work. A tally was kept of holes-in-one. All were welcome.
I remember with fondness the neighborhood. I can’t recall names, but the people themselves remain with a clarity that surpasses memories of most high school classmates. I can’t help but feel there is a need in us to be part of something more than work or social environments where one associates with individuals possessing similar interests.
I think it’s a need that for the most part is no longer being met.
How many of us know our close neighbors? Despite efforts, I have had little to no communication with folks in the two houses adjacent to ours. Everyone is pleasant, says good morning, and then goes inside. We all live inside with the hum of air conditioners. Most of us hire people to care for our lawns. We’re just not out much except to walk all the way to our cars and drive off.
What can be done to change this? Well, having dogs helps. Dogs have to have time outside to do their business and have access to the smells that seem to define joy for them, including the butts of other dogs.
Walking them satisfies those needs and grants me access to nearby humans, most of whom like dogs. A petting session can turn into conversation. When my wife and I moved, I used the dogs to meet as many as I could. Now that I’m a longtime resident (seven years) in the new community, I snag newer folks and welcome them to the neighborhood. I’ve come across a physical therapist for the Magic, a sheriff’s deputy who runs marathons, a poet who does short races, a retired nursery worker, a nurse practitioner who is happy to provide advice on specialists, a landscape artist, an ex-city employee who has a creative mind that asks interesting questions I could never imagine, an ex-nursery employee who loves to read, a supplier of caskets who uses a couple to provide Halloween amusement to hundreds of kids, nice Republicans, and a host of others whose stories I don’t know but who are unfailingly polite.
It feels like a neighborhood. Not quite the same as my youth, but there’s a similar feeling of having something beyond the interactions of professional and social groups. I like it and look forward to the dog walks.
It seems to me that the efforts of some are an attempt to resurrect the concept of neighborhood. There are those who organize block parties. On a larger scale our area closes off a major street for several blocks a few times a year for a community event. A bit too big, though, to mimic the neighborhood concept.
By coincidence, the morning I wrote this my local paper ran a story from the Washington Post about Little Free Pantries where folks leave items and anyone can pick them up. Modeled after Little Free Libraries, the goal is to ease the financial strain of those in need. One of those quoted said the Little Free Pantries “can knit neighborhoods closer together.”
I miss the neighborhood of my youth, but love the one of my present. Not the same, but both good.