Neighbors are a unique lot. When you buy a home, especially in the foothills, you never quite know what you’re going to get. We have cabins next to mansions, modern architecture next to turn-of-the-century, commuters next to work-from-homers. If you’re lucky, you’ll have neighbors as I do now where we look out for each other’s homes and have no problem asking to borrow a cup of milk. If you’re unlucky, you’ll have the neighbor who is always a thorn in your side, making you tiptoe around your own life, afraid to let the dog out for fear they’ll make a sound, etc.
The topic of neighbors came to me after a friend of mine shared her story about Gerald the Creeper, a 20-foot-tall skeleton she and her family proudly display for Halloween. “Everyone loves Gerald. They even stop to comment or take pictures,” she mentioned with a smile. One day, a ghostly anonymous note showed up in my friend’s mailbox that asked her to take Gerald down or relocate him because “he scares me every time I pass, which is often.” The person further mentioned that he/she is not a child. While my friend was itching to respond in some snarky way or keep Gerald up until New Year’s just for spite, I told her to take it with a grain of salt. As Bob Marley so eloquently put it, “You can’t please all the people all the time.” And is it really worth fighting over?
Her story got me thinking about the neighbors I’ve had over the span of time, from childhood to present. Some I’ll remember forever—others I’d love to forget.
As a child living in the suburbs of northern New Jersey, we were constantly urged by my mother to play outside. Epic games of man hunt were organized with small breaks for food or water. Or, we’d venture into the woods where there were miles of trails to explore and rope swings to injure ourselves with. My three older brothers rode go-karts and motorcycles to fill the time as well. However, our senior neighbors, Ginny and Bo, were not happy about the sound they brought to the ’hood.
One evening, a knock came at the front door in the middle of dinner. I ran to answer it and Ginny and Bo were standing there. “Hello, can we speak with your mom or dad, please?” As I left the door to get my parents, they followed me inside—which was odd, I remember thinking. My dad was the first to acknowledge them over a bowl of pasta with meatballs.
“Hello Gin and Bo, how are you guys?”
“Not good, Mike,” Ginny replies. “Take a listen to what your kids sound like.” She proceeded to take out a small black tape recorder from her pocket and pressed play. My family sat frozen like a Norman Rockwell painting. The recording began and all you could hear was the revving of motorcycle engines, go-kart peel-outs, laughter and chatter amongst kids.
I think she wanted my parents to be as appalled as she was. Instead, my father smiled and said something to the effect of, “I don’t know if you notice, but we are in the middle of dinner. Kids will be kids, Ginny, and I’ll try to keep them from being too loud, but I can’t guarantee anything. Can you let us eat in peace, please?” Her face dropped incredulously as she looked at Bo who seemed to be indifferent and only there for moral support.
“Well, the next time I hear it, I’m calling the cops!”
“Okay, Ginny, you do what you need to do,” said my father in a calm voice. After they left, we all began laughing hysterically. We continued to play and ride as usual, but my brothers started their vehicles in the woods instead of outside our house. The police were never called.
Fast-forward 30 years, when my husband and I had children, I wanted them to have similar outdoor adventures—minus the crabby neighbors. We found our first home deep in south Evergreen, bordering Conifer. It was a mountain neighborhood where everyone pretty much kept to themselves. Our old lady Beagle at the time, Shiloh, loved to roam the neighborhood and wound up barking incessantly to be let in at a random house nearby. Either she was beginning to lose her marbles, or she was confused in the new neighborhood. Either way, Shiloh became the conduit for a new friendship.
When the neighbor opened the door for Shiloh, he squatted down to greet her and gave a little fluff to her head. After checking out her collar, this neighbor was kind enough to walk her home. New neighbor and I wound up talking for quite some time and realized we had much in common: both English teachers, from the East Coast, had kids the same age, and loved the Grateful Dead. What were the chances? Before long, our families connected, I found a new friend (his wife) and our kids were inseparable. Combined family dinner nights became a regular occurrence and the kids ran free to build forts and play capture the flag until dusk. These neighbors became family and are still considered so. We lucked out.
Neighbors are relationships by proximity. Rarely do we choose them, therefore it’s always a wise idea to be kind. How do your neighbors view you? Are you the cranky complainer, the Nosey Nellie, the Intolerant Ivan? Or, are you the fun-loving, let it go, enjoy this life kind of person who will help a neighbor put up the 20-foot skeleton?