Friday, September 25, 2009

Neighbors and Strangers

Sunday is National Good Neighbor Day.

In my opinion,
the meaning of the word neighbor
has changed quite a bit
over the years.

When people talk about
being a good neighbor today,
they mean sponsoring a child
from Uganda for $30 a month,
keeping your lawn and trees trimmed,
and recycling your plastic and glass.

I can't even tell you
the names of some of my neighbors.
A quick glance at the mailbox
is the only clue I have
of who lives inside those houses.

Most of my neighbors are only cars.

The neighbor with the red car,
the guy with the black truck,
the people with the mini van...

They rarely have faces
and never any names.
And it's not like I live in the
big city or anything.
You think there would be
some time of community bond.

My mom was a good neighbor.

And she had good neighbors.

Their little circle of people
at the end of County Farm Road
was an perfect example
of true friendships.

My parents neighbors
would come over every so often
and share a cup of coffee
at the kitchen table,
(but not too often)-
or meet out at the end of the drive
while collecting the daily paper.
They'd share stories about
their children,
inform one another of the latest gossip,
and offer to give us a ride to school
or give us free access to their apple tree.

The Parson's, the Smith's, the Durham's,
the Rackaway's, the Heil's, the Scott's,
and the Alden's.
They all had names.
And faces.

I especially liked the Alden's.

They were an old couple
with- (what I thought then)-
was a really cool house.
They had linoleum that looked
like pebbles
and a step that led up to
the living room.

There were two pictures
on the wall there
that I especially loved.
They were landscapes.
But they were constructed of grass and leaves
and sticks and flowers all pressed under glass
to look like rolling hills and trees.
Even to this day,
I wish I had them.

Once in awhile, Mom would
send us over to Mrs. Alden's
to borrow a cup of sugar or some eggs.
(Do people even do that any more?)
We would actually fight over
who got to run past the yellow rose bush
and down the trodden path
through the Alden's yard
with the empty coffee cup.

Because we didn't go back home
with just sugar or eggs.
We usually got two giant oatmeal cookies
and a story from Mrs. Alden.

Once Mr. Alden took an old
turtle shell and made a head
and legs and tail for it out
of carved clothespins.
It was truly folk art.
And after playing with it forever,
he finally gave it to us.
I have no idea what happened to it.

He crafted a rocking chair out
of sassafras and woven reeds
and gave it to Mom.
I remember it being in
our front room for awhile-
and then-
who knows?
Nine kids could produce
a lot of damage.
I imagine the reeds were
eventually unwoven
or it was rocked so much
that it fell apart.

He even painted an oil painting
of our pet Beagle, Private.
I remember it being really
primitive and out of perspective
and Private was smiling.
That dog had about two hundred teeth
in that portrait!

As kids, we only saw
the cookies and the gifts
when we thought about our neighbors.

But to Mom, they were so much more.

They were a link to adult conversation,
support when she was ill,
a group of people that would
keep an eye on her children
as they played in the road
or warned of strangers that
didn't belong.

She laughed with them,
shared their times of grief,
and watched their lives grow old.

Times sure have changed.