Posted in Family

The Dying(?) Art of Knowing Your Neighbors

dream house
the “dream house”… for a bit. Move #2 & Move #4!

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…

moving day
the Great House-Swap of 2010

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.

neighbors fences cartoon
copyright Ron Morgan

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.

kissing booth
Working the “kissing booth” last summer

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…

enjoying “our” park last summer…


I am... a writer, an explorer, a coffee-drinker, a recovering addict, a barefoot linguist, a book-dragon ("bookworm" doesn't cover it), a raconteur, a sailboat skipper, a research diver, a tattooed scholar, a pirate, a poet, a spiritual adventurer, a photographer, a few kinds-of-crazy, a joyful wife, a mom... a list-maker! :)

49 thoughts on “The Dying(?) Art of Knowing Your Neighbors

  1. Great post! I wish I lived in your neighborhood. Instead, it is much like your picket fence house (minus the picket fence). We have lived here 7 years. We speak on a occasion to the neighbors on either side of us. The rest? I wouldn’t know know them if I saw them. Most do not even wave in passing, that is those that actually venture outside their homes. Sad state that our children may grow up not mastering the art of knowing our neighbors.


  2. Sadly, it is a dying art. That goes for simply knowing people in general, I believe. For me, the challenge comes from the speed of life. I am so drenched in activity, so exhausted from life, that knowing people feels like an unbearable burden. Of course, it ought not be that way. We are terribly deficient for it.


  3. I lived in the country for many years and the only neighbor was my sister. Who I did know. ;) Now I live in a very small house on a street in the “city”. I know my neighbors! I know stories about them. And of moving here the most wonderful positive thing was meeting and now knowing the neighbors on our “left”.

    It’s a comforting feeling knowing the people around you.

    Beautiful post.


  4. In my neighborhood, there are no fences. The dogs like it and so do we. There are plenty of excuses to wander and strike up conversation. I’m very fortunate. While growing up in town, the houses were crammed together, most had fences, and no one spoke. Now everyone is spread out and we walk to make contact.

    Thank you, Kana. This post is beautifully written — its personalities rich, like those of Steinbeck’s Cannery Row.


  5. Such a lovely piece of writing – I feel as though I’ve met your neighbors now, too. Your home sounds like a beautiful place, and hooray! that the park is so close-by. Thank you for letting us peek in this window of your life — A real joy to read!


  6. I’ve had the thought that the “richer” people are, the less likely they are going to get chummy with neighbors. Which once again proves wealth has nothing to do with money.


    1. You’ve hit it exactly! Elena Grace (age 8) commented last weekend that “Dad’s house has more money, but THIS house has more affection.” From the mouths of babes…


  7. Love this post, Kana! Sara and I own a home in a transitional neighborhood some might find undesirables, but our neighbors also are amazing–even keeping their neighborly eyes on the well-bing of our house when we’ve lived outside the US for years at a time.


  8. I fear that it is a dying art. I come from a town of less than 200 folks. As such, I grew up knowing everyone around me, and being related to quite a few. Now I live in the city and have found that my neighbors keep to themselves generally. I feel blessed and fortunate that the house we bought a year ago is situated amongst loving and caring individuals who introduced themselves to me before I had a chance to go and meet them.

    We have been in our home just over a year now, and my neighbors and I look out for each other. We bake for one another, share seeds, etc. This is my Oasis in the City.


    1. I’m SO comforted to hear, from your comment and others here, that there are still NEIGHBORS in the world… A dying art or an endangered one, perhaps–but not extinct! :)


  9. Statistics say you’re right, the art of Neighborliness is dying out. We’ve become insular and fearful and “too busy.” But, with over half of the population of my town Hispanic now, that is changing–at least for me. I love their practice of sitting out on the front porch (another dying art), so when I’m on my walks I try to always stop and chat with whoever is out.

    But, I’m not good at this. There’s an old man who lives next door to my apartment complex. He sits on his porch almost every day with his Pomeranian, MJ, but I’ve never introduced myself or asked his name. I’m going to on my next walk. Long overdue.


    1. Your “action plan” just made my day!! :) And I have to share with you that Keoni and I are grinning, because I’ve been reading comments on the iPad as we enjoy our morning coffee… on the front porch! (Another advantage of low chain-link fences: they’re easily “hopped” when people spot us on the porch, so we frequently have chatty company here…)


  10. I have lived in a neighborhood where most of the time the street was eerily deserted, and I knew few faces, and fewer names. Now, I live on a similar street in a different suburb, and of the 13 houses immediately around us, I can say I have been welcomed in all of them, and consider myself friends of eight of the families, and am planning a fall trip with five of the women. So, we consider ourselves lucky.

    I love your openness, clarity of thought and your embrace of the good things in your life! Thank you for sharing


  11. I’ve learned more about my neighbours here on our little island in the last week that I did in the three years we were in our apartment in Vancouver. Interesting in’it? … I reckon it has something to do with needing our ‘tribe’ to be physically closer when we’re in smaller communities.

    Currently working on my first ‘Widdershins on the Lake’ post … hopefully I’ll get it finished today, in between trying to figure out how the bloody bookshelves go back together. I’m sure there are far more bolts and screws than I’ll ever need!


    1. Looking forward to Widdershins-on-the-Lake! Fitting, as it was YOUR comments on moving that began this post… ;)


  12. It was so nice to read about neighbours who know each other and interact together. It’s been a LONG time since I’ve experienced the neighbourly back and forth. I live in the city in the BURBS. Everyone is busy going to work, shopping, ferrying the kids here and there that neighbours over the fence chatting is are disappearing. Oh yes, there’s those six and seven-foot fences too. In our house, though, we know and talk to the neighbours on each side of us but it’s nothing like it was when I lived in a village.

    Your post brought back memories of the good old days. Nobody had a fence. Everyone came if there was a fire, a grass-burning (to revitalize new grass and kill the weeks), would watch out for your kids or look after your kids when you went into hospital to have another one etc., telephone the doctor when you didn’t have a phone, let you buy groceries on credit because, just because etc. I could be jealous of your lovely neighbours and vista. Great place for kids to grow up. Another fabulous post!


  13. How great for all of you to have that park as part of your larger “yard”! So very pleased you know your neighbors now, including the critterly ones! I certainly know my neighbors–and they may know more about me than they wish to at times, including my weird whistles to my dogs! Thanks once again for all your gracious openness and fun what of describing the details of your days!


  14. I have wonderful neighbours where I am at the moment. It’s one of the reasons I’m hoping to buy this little cottage I’m renting. I just don’t want to move!


  15. Hi Kana,

    We have lived in our neighborhood going on 11 years in our first house. Our neighborhood is maybe not the most desirable, being that it used to be called East Detroit and was renamed many many years ago. But we have a great little town and neighborhood. Now our neighbors on either side, it took a while to get to know them. Only a few years ago, when my first son was born did we actually start talking to the neighbor across the street and now we actually hang out with them periodically. And only by coincidence today we met the newest neighbor directly across the street because her son backed into our brand new car that we have owned less than 4 days :( Sad to say other than that, being here as long as we have, I do think knowing your neighbors is a dying art.


  16. Currently we live on a cul-de-sac, and other than the neighbors immediately to our left, we barely exchanged ten words with the occupants of the other ten or twelve houses on our street. Even with the neighbors to our left, we only speak to them about once every three months. Pretty sad.

    I have a sister that lives in Florida, that also has a home in Tennessee, and she knows ALL her neighbors by name in both states. She helps organize block parties, and knows when a neighbor’s child is sick, or when someone else’s grand babies are spending the weekend. Her life is full and rich and diverse, and I’ve always wondered how this outgoing person can possibly be related to me. I love it that she gets out there and mixes it up, even striking up friendships with people she meets when visiting France, or in Peru. She’s kind of amazing like that.

    I love the idea of The Kissing Booth for the boat … cute! And the idea of living next to a park, and having those resources so close at hand. Sounds like you have made a home for you and your family there, and even if only temporary, or for however long this chapter lasts, it is a good place.


  17. Getting caught up on my reading so I was a little late to the party on this one, but good neighbors (even of the blogging variety) don’t care about that as much as they do that you made it. Kana. You have made it. Live long and prosper…chain link or no, you’ve uncovered the links that matter. Well done. Dan


  18. People are so much more interesting than fences, aren’t they? In my experience, knowing neighbors is still possible, but it takes a little effort. Recently, I called an elderly neighbor to check on him (he had had an accident.) An hour later he called me back to thank me and to say that he was still smiling because of my phone call. I was amazed that a simple ten minute phone call had made his day. I was also ashamed of all the times I hadn’t bothered. Thank you for a wonderful post.


  19. This is really good Kana . . . sorry to say that some of this is true in our neighborhood. We have lived in an inner city neighborhood for 19 years and really only knew about 4 families very well. Not sure how much income level had to do with it, it is mostly blue collar folks but we all seem to have our own space that we would only let so many people in. In November we moved 4 blocks away to a big old Victorian fixer upper, but winter came on right away so there hasn’t been much outdoor neighboring going on. But spring is here, and maybe I will remember your words here, to know and be knowable! And thanks for sharing in my journey too! Keep on, keepin’ on!


  20. This is terrific. I have quite a few neighbors I am close to, not just in distance. Glad to know I am not the last one making friends in my own backyard.


  21. Kana, what a great story and so many parts echo my feelings about moves. I had a number of moves when I was young and single and at the end of the day it was free pizza and beer for those who helped. Then a move with husband to a brand new home and we hired movers who did a good job of damaging our brand new place (just built).

    The next 2 moves, the company my husband moved us; so you’d think all would be peachy, right? Easy? No work involved? (for us, at least). WRONG. I spent ages organizing, making arrangements, getting records, transferring records, applying for the new mortgage and a TON of other things, that I barely noticed that someone else was doing that packing and moving us. I had to direct the packers, as they packed and unpacked. Needless to say, I didn’t feel so rested. A move is a move is a move is a move is a move and IS NO FUN:(


  22. I am a resident of Orange County, CA. The southern part of the county. I am happy to report that in my two street neighborhood which was developed in 1956 (we have lived here only eleven years), out of 35 homes, all of us look upon the other as family. In fact for Easter, as is tradition, we have a neighborhood egg hunt and there are many next generations participating as well as people who have moved who return for our annual egg-stravaganza–Christian or not. The young ones of the neighborhood look upon each other as siblings, while our elders become the universal grandparents. And us ‘in-betweeners’ fill up the middle years of our, as Hilary Clinton would put it, “village”.

    We look after each other, and share in each others joys and burdens. It is a very blessed life indeed, one I am happy to learn you have found. …nice post, lovely photos, and the kissing booth is ‘tops’!


  23. It is a dying art unfortunately. In most cities people are to busy working hard to pay for all the things they want/need to spend time saying hi to the person next door. Maybe that’s what changes the focus from outward to inward. I actually find it very sad, as communities originally supported but now they ignore each other. That’s why I too find it refreshing to live in a neighborhood where I know the names of the families for at least 3 houses on either side and we smile and wave at each other and stop to talk. We too live in a place where it’s as close to the country as you can get on the outskirts of the big city. I wonder if being closer to nature like that affects peoples desire to know those around them?


    1. When I was a child. all the neighborhood kids played together and we new all the neighbors (I guess Mom and Dad knew who if there was someone who shouldn’t be there); but that concept escaped this 10 year old mind.

      When in my 30s it was fairly easy to make friends, but I’ve noticed that as I’age, it is much more difficult and it has been necessary to make new friends because we’ve moved around. People have their ‘set’ group of friends and they become ‘not so desirous’ to open their doors.


      1. I still believe if you make the effort to slow down, be friendly, be a good listener, and try and make friends that it works out. True, there are cliques that don’t want anyone new, but usually those are the ones that aren’t worth being a part of. You should always be open to making knew friends. Don’t give up * HUGS *


        1. My mother said so many times, “…to have a friend, you’ve got to be a friend…” . I dismissed that advice years ago, but now I realize HOW TRUE IT IS. Thank you!


    1. It’s the moving that is the pain in the butt; I make friends easily, though; though you couldn’t tell it! There was a time that when moving meant all of your friends pitched in and at the end of the day: PIZZA!! Now, the stakes are a ‘tad’ higher!


  24. You are right about neighbors as strangers and I’m not sure why… perhaps the stress of making life work and all that good stuff that adds up our daily lives… I applaud your resilience though. Keep on going! :-)


  25. We just passed the first anniversary mark of being homeowners through Habitat for Humanity, and I feel really lucky because as far as neighbors go, we are all kind of in the same boat, even though we are all from vastly different backgrounds. We all went through the same program, so that gives us an instant common ground. Plus Habitat really encourages us to be a community, so that makes us much closer. I’m glad you’ve also found a neighborhood that you enjoy belonging to!


    1. Elena, I’ve worked on a few Habitat Homes (maybe I painted your kitchen!) and it makes me feel good to know that the organization encourages participation in a program and to become a comment so that ‘know thy neighbor’ feeling isn’t absent. Relocated several times and not knowing a soul hasn’t exactly been a ‘day at the beach!’ Annie


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