Neighbors are more important than the house you live in

By : 
Dr. Jan Meyer
Biker's Diary

When we moved to Lincoln, Neb., (and married!), we just by luck happened to buy a house in what turned out to be the friendliest neighborhood in the city. The next door neighbors and one across the street are lifelong friends. We get together whenever we can, but not often enough I will admit.

The wife of the couple next door was a schoolteacher, and he was a lawyer. They both enjoyed shopping for antiques, and were known to arrive early for “tag sales” anywhere in the city, the local equivalent of what we typically call garage or yard sales, whether they are held in the garage or yard or not. He collected antique railroad cookbooks, and had so many he had built shelves just below the ceiling, all around a couple of the main floor rooms, to display them. He liked to cook, so they did get used now and then.

She collected dishes of all kinds, and had so many that they were stored above and under various pieces of furniture. I became an even more ardent fan of open shelving: I concluded that one of the reasons all of those beautiful things actually got used was because she could always see what she had. That really encourages their use.

On the other side was another couple, he a cardiologist and she a lawyer. She and I both traveled a lot for our work, but when we were both in town, we were out on the bike trails by 7 a.m. or so. She’s now in Hawaii, and we did get to visit her there not so long ago. She was also a bit of a shopper, and we had a joke that her bike braked automatically for garage sales. One morning she spotted one at a house on the other side of the ravine, and immediately veered off the bike path and down a grassy hill to take the bridge across that ravine. Of course I followed, but I hadn’t turned as quickly as she had, so I needed to hit the brakes. It was early, the grass was wet, and of course the brakes got wet too. When I hit them, they didn’t work and I barreled right into the bridge railing without slowing down. Needless to say, I totaled the bike, which provided me with a wonderful reason to get a new one.

The neighbors directly across the street were a family of five. The dad was a newly-retired Navy officer who had been a fighter pilot on a carrier, and later a ship’s commander. She’d been a Navy wife and now, with no more long-distance moves in sight, she started a new career as a kitchen designer. Their children were delightful and hard-working. The older two, both boys, together had a triple paper route, so they were up and out there every morning very early. They both were serious soccer players, and had a lot of stamina, which they put to use delivering those papers: they ran, not walked, the paper route.

I had a paper route growing up, so I knew how it worked. But Spouse Roger, having grown up on a farm, had not had the opportunity. When the parents wanted to have a weekend getaway alone together, they asked us to chaperone the three kids. Sundays, I remembered from my own and my son’s paper route experiences, are the days when the car is needed. No one could carry a bag of Sunday papers! So we drove them around their route and got to see their efficiency and the fun with which they approached this job. The youngest, a girl, would ride along and do a little helping out.

We played “local grandparents” to these kids on quite a few weekends, and both we and they enjoyed the experience. So, when one of their real grandparents died and the whole family had to be gone on short notice, we took the paper route. We were nowhere near as fast as they were, but we got it done, and just like we did when they were there, we had pancakes or waffles for breakfast afterwards as a reward.

These were the kids who first made me aware of how our language was changing. They had all picked up the new — and awful — habit of inappropriate frequent use of the word “like.” They’d say something like “I was riding my bike, like, to the store.” Being the adopted grandmom, I felt I could correct them. So we set up a “job” jar except this was a “like” jar. Their parents were also trying to break them of that bad grammar, so the kids knew they should try. So, we all agreed, when they were at our place and they used the word “like,” incorrectly, they’d have to put a quarter in the job jar. It sort of helped, but since they have all left the nest and left Lincoln, we haven’t seen them for a long time. So, I don’t know if that campaign was successful in the end or not.

Maybe the neighborhood was so friendly because we were all transplants except for the couple right next door. None of us, including them, had relatives in the area (the lawyer and teacher couple were from western Nebraska and had no children). That may be a contributing factor. But in retrospect, I’ve had many good neighbors in so many places, and I’ve learned through many experiences how important it is to have those good neighbors. Maybe it’s just how our culture works!