Love Thy Neighbor

Love Thy Neighbor

ByGroovy Green Apr 16, 2008

Another in our series from Wendy.


I had a rather nomadic childhood. For the first eight years of my life, we moved at a rate of about once a year. Then, we were settled for about five years, but we moved again just before I started high school, and then, four years later, when I graduated from high school, I lived a transient life as a college student. Four years later, when I received my Bachelor’s degree, I moved for the next seven years, at about the same frequency as I did for the first eight years of my life – packing up my entire household and relocating every two to eighteen months.

Then, I moved with Deus Ex Machina, our two month old daughter, eight month old chow-chow puppy, and three year old iguana to Maine.

When we moved here, and finally found a house that could accommodate our growing family, I was thrilled. I thought, this would finally be my “home” and I was SO ready to put down some roots, both figuratively and literally. That first spring, we planted five fruit trees, and my first ever garden. It was very exciting.

The irony is that I spent the first half of the time I’ve lived here looking for a new house – something with some land, because we wanted to be self-sufficient, which I was positive wasn’t possible on only a quarter-acre.

I no longer believe I need a hundred, or even just five (… or even one), acres to be relatively self-sufficient or to live off the grid. I think to some degree or other it is possible, even here on my little suburban lot.

But more than that, I’ve realized that I have something right here, in the suburbs, after living here for ten years, that I might not have if I had moved out to the country … or that any of us would have the time to cultivate, if the reports are true, and peak oil is here, and climate change is happening as I type, and disaster is ready to strike any … day … now. We might not have time to create what we likely already have in our imperfect suburban neighborhoods, if we rush to stake our claim on that perfectly fertile piece of heaven on earth in the wilds.

And that is “good neighbors.”

I’m not saying that country people don’t make good neighbors. Remember, my family are all country folks – both sides. My dad grew up on a five acre homestead in southeastern Kentucky. He’s good people, and the family members who still live on the homestead are very good people and very good neighbors.

But having lived a nomadic life for most of my life, I can say with complete authority that all people, regardless of where they live, have a tendency to be a little shy … no, that’s not the right word. The right word is standoffish. People, no matter where they are, tend to be a little standoffish when they get new neighbors. It takes most people a while to warm up to new faces.

On her blog post today Sharon talks about the voices of people who have lived through hard times, and the one thing that made survival possible in the worst of times was community, the willingness of neighbor to help out neighbor.

I have some amazing neighbors. We’re not buddies, and often times, we kind of ascribe to the philosophy of the narrator’s neighbor in Robert Frost’s poem The Mending Wall “Good fences make good neighbors.”

Mostly we have a “Hi, how are you?” relationship. They are all a bit older than we are and do not have young children, but they always tell me how much they love watching my girls doing the things little girls do when they’re busy and don’t realize they’re being watched.

That lovely basket of eggs was gifted to one neighbor. Another neighbor was given a basket with eggs, some ham, and a loaf of homemade bread. My girls colored the eggs, which they enjoyed sharing, and they hand-delivered the baskets, which they really enjoyed doing. In fact, they kind of argued over who was going to carry the basket :) .

I live in a small neighborhood. I know all of my immediate neighbors – by name, not just by sight. I know what kind of car they drive. I know if they have pets and their pets’ names. When they go out of town, they know they can ask us to keep an eye on their house and to feed their pets. I know where they work and what shift they work on. I know if they have children, and I know their children, and often their children’s significant others.

I know these things about them, because they know these things about me. They know my children and have watched them grow from babies to little girls. In the case of my two older children, they watched them grow from kids to adults. They know we homeschool. They know I garden. They know my pets, and when my high-strung beagle runs off, they know whose dog it is, and that we’ll be right along to get him. Sometimes, they’ll catch him for us. They know we have chickens and that we’ve raised rabbits, and while we were doing our maple syrup “experiment”, they watched and have inquired how it went.

It’s not a close-knit community, but we’re neighborly. We know each other, and while we probably don’t agree wholeheartedly on a lot of issues, they know, in a pinch, they can count on us.

In fact, it wasn’t long ago that my elderly neighbor was in the hospital. His wife doesn’t drive and called to ask if I could take some stuff over to him, which I gladly did. We also went and picked him up when he was released.

When the family across the street bought their house, I made a batch of oatmeal applesauce muffins and took them over. One summer we made up extra strawberry jam and shared it with the whole neighborhood.

But they’ve done things for us, too. When we painted our house the first time, one let us borrow their ladder, because we were using a chair. They gave us a mother-lode of canning jars and canning supplies recently. And more than that, they’ve given us a wealth of experience and information about this area (like don’t plant tomatoes before Memorial Day, which is a very important piece of information) that we could never have found had we not had our occasional over-the-fence conversations.

A few months after we bought our house, I was walking down the road with my daughter, and we stopped to admire a neighbor’s flower garden. When we were coming back up the road toward our house and passed hers again, she had cut a bouquet for us.

Once, my car battery died, and the neighbor down the street stopped to give me a jump.

These were just little things, little silly things, and none of us have had to experience any major trauma, yet. We may not. Things may not get as bad as predicted.

But if things do get bad, I mean really bad, I know which neighbors I can trust if I need help. I know who has tools. I know where to go if I need some firewood, or who to ask if I’d like to barter my labor to plant a garden in exchange for allowing me to do so on their land, or if I end up with a couple of goats and need grazing land, who would let me tie them in an unused part of their yard in exchange for some milk, or cream, or butter, or cheese.

I know these things about my neighbors, and they know these things about me.

I also know, from too much experience, that cultivating a relationship, even one as distant as the one I have with my neighbors, takes time. Like gasoline and wheat, time to prepare may be in short supply in the very near future. If we mass exodus out of the suburbs in an effort to build more self-sufficient communities, we may find ourselves woefully ill-prepared, and without the support of a community of neighbors whom we already know, we may find we’re not really surviving at all.

Even those people who are wholly self-sufficient have a support network of other people. John Donne wrote,

No man is an island, entire of itself
every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main

and it’s just as true today as it was when he wrote it. We are all interdependent.

In my opinion, it’s better to know on whom I might need to depend, than to be surprised by the knowledge that those people whom I have chosen for my neighbors by virtue of the fact that I have purchased a home in the vicinity of theirs are the Hatfields to my McCoy.

At least here, in my suburban neighborhood, I already know who the Hatfields are.