What it means to be a neighbor

For most of my life I’ve had good neighbors. I’m not saying that all of my neighbors have been great, but most have been kind, considerate and friendly. I grew up in the 60s and 70s on a quaint brick lined street in an older part of town. Many of the residents in the neighborhood had a kid or two who were close in age to one of ours, and by default we all got to be friends – the kids and the parents. Not surprising, as there were eight children in our family and odds were good that there’d be an age match.

In that childhood neighborhood, the moms kept a watchful eye on the rest of the “herd” and were only a quick call or door knock away if you needed to borrow the symbolic “cup of sugar.” We had backyard BBQs and pot-lucks and when someone had a new baby or reached a major milestone, you knew that a cake or a bottle of champagne was on the way.

Sure, there was the crotchety old man who lived in the big house. The one the kids told stories about and dared others to run across the lawn. But in reality, he too was a “good neighbor” in his own curmudgeonly way. In that neighborhood, we all looked out for each other, we celebrated the good times and were there to help when needed.

Fast forward to my college and apartment living years. Close quarters and young residents (who tend to stay up late and play loud music) didn’t always make for considerate neighbors, but in a pinch, most would also be there for you.

The next phase of neighbor experience began when my husband and I moved into a family-centric subdivision. We met our neighbors while our walking the baby in the stroller or working in the yard. As our children grew up and became friends with other kids on the block, neighbor/mom/couple friendships also developed. We started hanging out with other young families in the neighborhood – having backyard BBQs and trying out new restaurants as a group. Sometimes we even (gasp) vacationed together.

I’ll always remember the day we moved into that home. A neighbor who lived a few houses down from us delivered a home-made Bundt cake. She was the wife of the current college football coach and a busy mother of four – and yet she made time to bake us a Bundt cake. Now that’s 1950’s neighborly!

After twenty years in that home, we moved yet again a few years ago. It was hard to leave the neighborhood where our kids grew up. As it turns out, I’ve also met some great people in our “empty nester” neighborhood, but I’ve observed that it’s not uncommon to go for years without meeting some of them – if ever.

Throughout many moves, I’ve learned that a neighbor can be many things. A casual acquaintance, a confidante, an emergency dog-sitter, a close-friend, someone you can call when in a bind or someone you may never get to know.

A good neighbor will clear your drive-way after a heavy snow, bring you mail that was delivered to them in error, buy popcorn or wrapping paper they don’t need from your kids, corral an escaped pet, or in my case, bring you to the emergency room.

A few weeks ago, I woke up with a raging migraine. My husband was out of town – so it was just me and the dogs. My prescription medicine wasn’t working and soon, my headache had become unbearable.

I began to wonder if this was more than the garden variety migraine. The dogs were staring at me with concern as they sensed all was not well. Strangely enough, I was mostly worried about who’d take care of them if I passed out – or worse. It’s interesting how the mind works when muddled with illness or injury.

And so, I reached out to my next-door neighbor. We had only just met, but I knew she was a retired physician and could at least set my mind at ease. My text was short and to the point: “I have a horrible migraine and can’t stop vomiting.” Minutes later, she showed up with ginger-ale and a blood pressure cuff. She took my vitals and encouraged me to hydrate. It was like a hybrid concerned mother/EMT visit.

When it became clear that I wasn’t getting better, she drove me to the emergency room and stayed with me while they administered a “migraine cocktail” and a bag of fluids. She also insisted on reading my blood work results. Then she brought me back home and checked on me throughout the rest of the day.

We’ve since become good friends and spend time doing things much more enjoyable than visiting the emergency room. We are neighbors in the best sense of the word.

With few exceptions, we can’t really choose our neighbors – but the people living next door, or down the street can definitely impact our lives. There will always be neighbors we’ll rarely see and may never meet. They may be perfectly lovely people who are just extremely private or too busy to bother. But you never know? They may show up after a blizzard with a snow-blower or bring Fido home when he’s escaped the electric fence yet again.

I am eternally grateful for the wonderful neighbors I’ve had over years. We all benefit from being (and having) good neighbors. In some cases, they can be life-savers. Are you the kind of neighbor you’d like to have?

Neighbor anecdotes:

“Our neighbors became like family, as our “real” family lived out of state. My daughter calls “mommy #2” when she wants another mom’s advice. And her daughters call me!” – Kathy Rhoads

“We share a large commons area with one neighbor. Over time each of us has taken a task when the other can’t. Often based on abilities one has that the other does not.” – Mike Zopf

“I often count my lucky stars that we raised our kiddos with amazing support from our neighbors. They really made my kids childhood magical!” – Kerry Rossow

“When I was working overtime, the neighbors had the code to my garage and would let my dogs out. Need an extra hand for a project? Someone was available to help. On vacation? Someone would mow your yard.” – Rich Decker

“It doesn’t take that much to be a good neighbor. Introduce yourself, smile, and if you want to go crazy, bake some cookies and drop them off when a neighbor moves in. I’ve had mostly great neighbors – I think I’ve been lucky.” – Dave Barr

“Dave is the best neighbor. Delivers all my packages to my door.” – Nancy Sullivan

“I definitely like to get to know my neighbors. Humans are wired for connection.” – Cathy Murphy

“I like to know my neighbors, but we don’t really hang out. Everyone is so busy – but I like that I can text them, and them me, with issues.” – Nelena Neff

One thought on “What it means to be a neighbor

  1. What a wonderful post! I remember all the neighbors of my childhood fondly. Today it’s a little harder to connect, but the neighbors I have met are just as helpful and friendly.


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