A fellow blogger has recently been bemoaning the hassles of moving, and I couldn’t be more in sympathy! It doesn’t help that I’ve had to move five times in the last four years, but I never liked moving to begin with. When my first husband and I bought a house, I swore I was going to retire and die at that address. Well, he might–but a decade later when I knew I needed out of the marriage, that meant getting out of the house–he wasn’t going anywhere.
So I leased an apartment (move #1) and humped nearly a thousand books up three flights of stairs. A year later I bought my dream house (move #2) and discovered that moving all those books down three flights of stairs wasn’t materially easier than the original project had been…
A year and a half after that, having thrown away my fancy job (or, more to the point, my $70K salary) with my alcoholism, when my current husband and I couldn’t keep up on the house payments, we entered into a rent-to-own agreement with a couple who lived across the street in a tiny rental, and who had been coveting my “dream house” since it had been built. That was an interesting move, as we each moved all our worldly possessions into our respective front yards and then swapped residences! Move #3.
I pride myself on being a creative thinker (this problem-solving arrangement being an example of one of my more unorthodox ideas)–but that doesn’t always work out. Seven months later they skipped town and left us with an empty house and the mortgage still in our name. So (move #4) we moved back across the street.
Last summer the collectors caught up to us, as we knew they would; we’d managed to live in it for nine months since we’d given up trying to make payments, but the house inevitably went up for auction in July. By not making mortgage payments, we’d managed to save up enough for a deposit and a couple months’ rent (an extra month to “sweeten the pot” since our credit record makes us look like doubtful prospects) for a double-wide trailer (move #5) out in the country, a few minutes’ walk from the State Park where I was working for the summer. As Ron Weasley says of The Burrow when he first brings Harry Potter home to visit: “‘Tisn’t much–but it’s home!” And I pray to the gods-of-packing-boxes that we’ll call it home for a while.
I wrote the other week about living inside the illusion of a “perfect” life complete with white picket fence… Well, this neighborhood (by which pleasant term I mean “trailer park“) doesn’t have any picket fences. It’s full of lovely old trees, and a duck-pond and fountain just behind our kitchen window… and the fences here are waist-high chain-link. Not the “classiest” of looks. But we’ve discovered we’re surrounded here by something else invaluable: the loveliest of people! We joked about becoming “trailer trash” with this latest move, but given the caliber of the folks on all sides, I’ll say it now with pride.
And I realize now that when I lived behind a white picket fence, I didn’t know my neighbors! (With the single exception of a family who lived next door to us for a spell, and who made their own wine from the old grapevine on our side of the fence, and gave us gallon jugs of it every year. In my drinking-years, obviously… and how telling is it that the drinking-years coincided with the white-picket-fence years?)
As I’ve talked with people recently, I’ve begun to wonder about this–perhaps I’m mistaken, but it seems as though a lot of Americans these days don’t know their neighbors at all. I’m grateful now for the openness of chain-link fences, and the fact that we know the folks around us.
There’s Bill and his wife Sandy and his weiner-dog Buster, who grew far too many vegetables last summer and brought us armloads of what they couldn’t eat, and received armloads of zucchini bread and fresh salsa in return. (The English-editor who lives in my head points out that I’ve just claimed Buster was growing vegetables. Bill grew the vegetables; Buster barked at them.)
Bill is the fix-it guy for the neighborhood, so when I thought Santa had arrived a few months early, it was Bill on our roof winterizing the air conditioner (which we’d never had to use, despite Boise’s high-desert climate, thanks to the shade trees surrounding us). Sandy exercises Buster by riding loops around the trailer park on her bike, making him run along beside on his stubby little legs.
There’s our thickly-accented Russian neighbor Anatoli and his little dog Tyouscha (which he says translates to something like “old lady” or “mother-in-law”), who smokes his own deer jerky and salmon and brings us gallon ziplocks of his latest dried meat, who tinkers ineptly on various things (and usually ends up needing Bill’s help) and who recently built a chicken coop and is dying for the first eggs to show up. When Bill found a duck-nest behind his shed last week, he thought about slipping one of its eggs into Anatoli’s chicken coop, but decided it would be too cruel a joke, given how very hyped Anatoli is about his new chickens.
There’s Steve, who’s a couple years ahead of us on his Sobriety-count, and who has been doing battle with the skunk who seems determined to take up residence underneath his shed, and Carroll around the corner, who sat at his picnic table in his cowboy hat on summer days and greeted us with a jolly wave and how-de-do every time we passed by. Lareen, my first acquaintance here, worked with me at the State Park last summer, and at age seventy (going-on-thirty, I swear!) she’s full of pep and vinegar and great stories. We ran into her at the mailboxes the other day, and I’m tickled that she’s also returning to reprise her role at the State Park’s entrance booth, where she and I took turns as the summer gatekeepers and greeters.
Keoni refers to the park entrance as the Kissing Booth, though I’ve told him he’s the only one who gets kisses when he drives through…. The other day our ten-year-old (whoops, our eleven-year-old after last week’s birthday) said he intends to buy us a sailboat when he grows up, but stipulated that he won’t give it to us until we have a name selected for her. Whereupon our seven-year-old (whoops, our eight-year-old after last week’s birthday) piped up with certainty: “It’ll be Kissing Booth.” So there we have it.
It’s thanks to my sojourn in the kissing booth last summer that I know the rest of our neighbors, all of whom periodically walk the few minutes to the lovely sandy beach on the lake, and whom I met and matched to their respective homes over the course of the summer. I also got to know our local law enforcement fellows, who loop through the park regularly and stop at the booth to chat. (Sorry, no kisses.) When I watched from my vantage point as they pulled into our neighborhood one afternoon with sirens blaring, and then come my way for the park-check a while later, I caught them off guard by asking if Karen were okay. I knew exactly whom they’d been called to see; we actually first met Karen a few years ago in an outpatient Rehab class, and she’s still struggling with her addictions. Karen is still as “okay” as she can be, under the circumstances–but her kids are having a hard time of it, and I ended up radioing the Rangers one day to help their dad find the youngest, who had run away to hide in the park…
Well, our neighborhood is no more or less perfect than any other (hell, they let US in… enough said!)–but you know what? Even aside from the fact that I hope not to have to move again for a while, I LOVE it here. I love it that we have ducks nesting beneath our bushes this week, and that I greeted a great blue heron on my walk to work every summer morning, and that hawks circle overhead, and that we watched a nesting pair of Ospreys all summer, and that we spot an occasional beaver or coyote or wild turkey around the place, and that some people still range the neighborhood on horseback rather than by car. I love the lake and the beach just minutes’ walk away. And yes, I’ve come to love the low chain-link fences–or rather, the openness they represent.
I’m thinking of a single neighborhood event during my picket-fence-life, when the wine-making next-door neighbor took it into her head to host a “Neighborhood Baby Shower” at the birth of my son. We lived on a street just two blocks long near downtown Boise, and she went up and down the street to invite the lady of every house. Next to myself, the hostess was the “newest” in the neighborhood, having lived there only sixteen years, and everyone else had been there for decades. But not a one of them knew more than one of the others. (Many of them had known each other’s children, who evidently roamed in a pack across the row of connected back yards in some decade past–but they didn’t know each other.) It was a lovely afternoon–but we all retreated behind our picket fences afterward, and barring my trip up and down the street to deliver thank-yous the following week, that was our only interaction.
So I’m curious–is the practice of Knowing Your Neighbors really a dying art? I’m hoping not…