“You’ve mentioned a lot lately on Facebook about how awesome your neighbors are and prodding us all to get to know our own neighbors. Problem is, I don’t know how to do that! I feel weird just knocking on people’s doors, offering to be their friend!”
Oh, believe me, I know how intimidating it is to put yourself out there with strangers! But as you know, I think it’s a worthwhile endeavor to do so with your neighbors. You have the opportunity to create connections with people whose lives are proximate to you - people who can give you practical, real-life support if you need it. It’s great to keep up with Facebook friends, and to have close friendships that are maintained via Skype or email (or even old fashioned snail mail). But none of those connections can actually replace having someone physically near you - able to pop over at a moment’s notice to help with a leaky pipe, or to drive you to the Emergency Room in the middle of the night, or to just sit on your front porch and share a slice of peach pie.
Don’t get me wrong - I have many treasured friendships that are almost completely maintained online. Being able to text, IM, email, Skype, etc. is a modern day miracle that I am thankful for every day. My fear, though, is that we have overwhelmed our innate desire for connection with only this long-distance, cyber type, and that the concept of being a good neighbor is quickly fading away into just “Live quietly and leave everyone alone.” We are so plugged in everywhere we go that we are forgetting to connect outside of our computers and mobile devices.
My desire is that we don’t forget that there is a world just beyond our screens that is also filled with living, breathing, wonderful human beings just waiting to be “friended,” to coin a term. Let’s not let our deep (and often deeply rewarding) involvement with the online world distract us from the real world right outside our front doors.
So, yes, we have forged good relationships with many of our neighbors, and honestly it wasn’t that difficult. You’ll be surprised how open people are to being on good terms with their neighbors. While neighborliness is quickly becoming a lost art, so far it hasn’t completely disappeared as a cultural value; people still respond positively to a friendly face at their door, offering to trade phone numbers and watch out for each other’s best interests.
Here’s how we did it.
We moved into our house in the fall, and found that we had inherited two scraggly, unloved, but still fruit-bearing century-old apple trees. I set my girls to work picking apples, and one evening I processed them all (each and every one of them housed a worm!). The next day, we baked miniature apple pies and set off down our street to meet the neighbors.
I’m a firm believer in never showing up empty handed. Especially when I’m showing up unannounced! Having a steaming little apple pie to offer, and my girls’ sweet voices chorusing “hello, neighbor!” really helped me feel confident about knocking on my neighbors’ doors.
That afternoon turned into evening, as we gave out pies, received house tours (nearly everyone on our block has remodeled their 1900s bungalows and is eager to show off their hard work!), and exchanged contact information.
It was so much fun!
We have continued the miniature pies tradition, with cherries from our cherry tree in the summer, and pecans and cranberries (along with a plate of Christmas cookies) in the winter. Our neighbors have happily let us borrow their inner tubes and life jackets for floating down the river, and even a circular saw, when my dad was doing some handy projects during one of his visits. We share goodies, stories, and goodwill with each other on a regular basis.
I have to believe that pie helped make all this possible. Pie and the courage to say hello.
Why it’s worth it
Over the last couple of years, we have forged strong bonds with our immediate next door neighbors. The older single lady on one side of us loves to have the girls come over to visit. On sunny days, she will bring out her game of Twister and officiate for them, or read stories to them on the front steps. We’ve had impromptu picnics with her in our front yard, long afternoon chats in her back patio, and many friendly waves as we pass in the alley. She always gives thoughtful presents for my girls’ birthdays and Christmas. I often send the girls over with fresh baked goods or extra soup in a mason jar. Today, Sophia ran over to show off her freshly lost tooth-hole. I love that my girls have this opportunity to make intergenerational friendships.
On the other side of us is a single guy who is very kind to the girls. He helps them look for treasures in the vacant lot that abuts both of our yards. He brings over interesting rocks or shells that he’s found. He once brought out some of his bead collection and let us all choose some beads. We share food with him as well, and he and my husband have had gin and tonics or beers together a few times. He is the guard dog of the vacant lot next to us; making sure people don’t use it as their parking lot/tailgate area during the many festivals downtown, and running off the riffraff that was loitering unnecessarily at night. I feel much safer, knowing that he has a watchful eye on our street.
When we left for the coast for a week, I texted a couple neighbors to let them know we would be gone, and if they saw any activity in the house they should call the cops! Well, we ended up coming home after only 2 days, because everyone was coming down with the flu! I texted them to let them know we were home early because of illness. The very next day, my sweet across-the-street neighbor brought us a huge pot of homemade chicken broth.
I love the easy flow of reciprocation we’ve found with our neighbors. We aren’t all in the same social circles and we aren’t always up in each others’ business. But our lives touch, and where they connect, we are all better for it.
So, I encourage you to take a little time and get to know the people around you. Bake some bread or whip up a batch of cookies, or just take a note with your name and phone number on it. Look your neighbors in the eye, smile and shake hands; become a bit player in the lives surrounding your own. If they’re creepy (we have some like that), then now you know and can be cautious. If they’re awesome - what great luck!
You’ll never know unless you take that first step down the sidewalk.