Sunday, July 21, 2013


Yesterday a man drove up the house next door, got out and placed a metal "For Sale" sign in the yard. He snapped a photo and drove away.

Obviously the owner of that residence has put that house on the market. A routine transaction, to be sure, and hardly newsworthy.

But what struck me was that despite having had that particular neighbor living next door to me for four years, I barely know her at all. If our paths crossed in a local grocery or restaurant, I doubt I would even know what she looks like.

Too bad that neighbors today are so far removed from the good ol' days. Neighbors used to be our friends, part of our extended family. In an era when mothers stayed home with the kiddies, neighbors provided connection with others in a similar situation. Neighbors helped each other by taking turns to watch the kids while errands were run. They dropped in to chat, share a cup of mid-morning coffee and catch up on news tidbits. In the days before television, our neighbors had names like Eula, Nettie, Don McNeill and Arthur Godfrey.

Neighborhoods sometimes held get-togethers, cooking out a one house or another and gathering to socialize. Men did the grilling and women brought potluck salads or desserts. There were not a lot of such events in our circle of neighbors, but I can recall a few. There were more apt be visits during the day which largely escaped my notice except for summer when school was out.

Our neighbors were similar to neighbors portrayed in sit-coms, familiar faces appearing in a supporting role. They also popped in almost as frequently, too. But many visits were brief, even occurring in the yard while mowing, on the sidewalk while skating or biking, even a quick wave from the front porch. They were there, nonetheless, warm and comforting and offered support when needed.

There is a commercial currently being shown on TV. It's for Chinet dinnerware, I think, and shows a girl wandering through a hall of memories. The voice-over alludes to the old days when doorbells rang more than cell phones. I wonder how many of us recall that period of time.

When I was a kid, I knew every neighbor in each block around our house. I was aware when a grandchild would come for a visit, which house had a newborn, who had a sister in high school, what the dad did for a living (every house had a husband) and who had good Halloween candy. These factors helped shape my world, demographics before the word came into vogue.

When a house had a special event, we got to sample the goodies. One of the couples a few house away, parents of my friend, once had a big square dance party with outdoor lights, a caller and couples dancing. The works. They had large tubs of iced drinks and as a privileged guest, I sipped my first bottle of Grapette from the sidelines, watching enthusiastically. Pretty heady stuff. I was about 6 years old.

Neighbors did thing like help trim trees and rake leaves. People all took pride in their homes and kept their yard tidy, so we all had a stake in the overall appearance. I think we felt a sense of kinship, as though we were somehow all in it together. It was a neighborhood society and we were all members of the club.

So, now the lady in the house next door has put her house on the market. Who is she? Over the past months, something happened to her relationship with the man who used to live there, too. I don't think they were married but they seemed happy. Then his car stopped parking on the driveway. Her kids are grown but I didn't know them either. Who were they? Who knows.

Too bad that neighbors rarely talk to each other any more. Everyone is too absorbed in their own lives to spare a minute to talk to someone else -- unless that person is calling on a cell phone.

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