As a child, there was perhaps no greater validation of my existence than hearing the doorbell ring and knowing it was one of the neighborhood kids seeing if I was available to hang out. I don’t have any siblings, so I think the effort on someone else’s behalf to seek me out was a nice feeling. Still is.
My parents and I knew all of our neighbors quite well, and almost all the kids on our street, though now adults, are still friends of mine today. We neighbors always said hello and chatted with one another, helped out when needed and took each others’ mail when someone was out of town. We kids knew a lot about each other, too, such as who got grounded recently, who had a sick relative or who had a crush on someone. It wasn’t always perfect—people don’t get along with each other 100 percent of the time—but it was my street, and those were my people. My tribe.
As an adult, however, I have little to no relationship with my neighbors.
In the three or four years we’ve lived in our home, I know next to nothing about the people who live immediately around my wife and me. I know the last name of one of the families, maybe what some of the folks do for a living … and little else. My wife is usually busy working, I can be excruciatingly shy and our dog is rambunctious to the point that people might be a little afraid of her even though she’s a big baby. Maybe those are reasons why we don’t know our neighbors. That, and it’s nauseatingly hot here in Texas. Maybe people are outside less than they are in my native Ohio?
I’ve heard not knowing one’s neighbors isn’t uncommon these days, but if I had to pick one reason why we don’t know our neighbors, I would guess it’s because we do not have children. I think kids playing with other nearby children or going to school together sort of forces neighbors to get to know one another.
I went back to the old neighborhood while visiting Ohio late last year. Some things were instantly recognizable, but our former house wasn’t one of them. The current owners changed it quite a bit, so much so that it hurt a little to look at it. But I had my memories, warm and fuzzy as ever. I hope by the time we have children that we know our neighbors better or that having kids forces us to do so; I’d hate for my child to not have similar memories.