Mandy Newham-Cobb illustration
Neighbors should be neighborly
Anyone raised in a small town or rural community grew up knowing his or her neighbors. One knew the neighbors’ names, waved as they came and went, spoke if they were within earshot, and took food to their house when someone was sick or in the event of a death. Sadly, time seems to have changed our behavior, even in rural areas. If we’re lucky, we might know our neighbors’ names, but that’s about as far as it goes—and even then it often takes seeing the writing on the mailbox.
I was convinced that I too didn’t know my neighbors. It seems I spend all my time at work or in my home with the curtains pulled. I began to wonder who my neighbors are and what they’re like.
I stepped away from the computer, walked to my neighbors’ house, and knocked on the front door. It was my father who answered the door.
“Hi, Dad. What are you doing here?”
“I live here,” he said, raising one eyebrow.
Okay, so maybe that didn’t really happen, but you get my point. Most of us fall far short of the Biblical definition of the “good neighbor,” and we’ll probably never hear a State Farm commercial cheerily chiming, “Like a good neighbor, [insert your name here] is there.”
It’s not that I never had a good example of a good neighbor while growing up.
There were my grandparents, Pop-Pop and Meemaw. Meemaw delivered food to the sick or bereaved, sent cards, and kept up on all the neighborhood gossip. If something happened in her community, she would hear about it and pass it on to the next person in the gossip chain. If nothing was happening, one of the ladies would get creative and heat up the phone lines anyway. I didn’t say MeeMaw was perfect, but she was a good role model.
Pop-Pop would sit on the front porch or out in the yard on a swing after the day’s work and chores were done. Their house, a small, white, clapboard house with green trim, sat about 50 yards off of a less-traveled, tar and gravel country road. Pop-Pop would sit with a battery-operated transistor radio by his side and a mason jar full of iced tea in his hand, listening to an Atlanta Braves baseball game.
When a car occasionally happened down road, Pop-Pop would throw up his hand and wave. Most passersby were locals who knew he would be there and thus wave back—all but one that is.
Singer Kenny Rogers owned a place a few miles on down the way and would pass by my grandparent’s Smithonia Road home along the way. Pop-Pop always recognized Rogers’s Ford Bronco, would wave, and say, “Hey, Kenny!” Of course Kenny Rogers would never hear his name called from such a distance, and Pop-Pop knew it. He also knew Kenny Rogers never looked to the side and never waved. Not once. All the same, that never stopped Pop-Pop from performing his “neighborly duty.”
My grandparents taught me that one doesn’t stop being a neighbor just because one’s neighbor has refused to be one back. It’s a lesson I have to keep reminding myself of even today.
During my middle and high school years, Mrs. Hendrix provided the perfect example of what a neighbor was supposed to be. Her son Danny, my brothers and I rode the bus to school together. We often played basketball together too, as Danny’s dad had installed a basketball goal on a security light pole that was in their yard.
But, by virtue of being a neighbor, Mrs. Hendrix herself also was among my friends. I’d walk the 100 yards or so to the Hendrixs’ brick house, knock on the side screen door under the carport, and take a seat on the green, vinyl-covered couch just inside the door facing the kitchen so that Mrs. Hendrix and I could talk. Though it was nothing more than small talk, we could go on for well over an hour if we let it until eventually she’d say, “I need to fix Harold some dinner,” which was my cue to leave.
Thought I really can’t recall any particular thing Mrs. Hendrix ever said to me, I can say she always greeted me with a smile, and that a true neighbor makes time to slow down, sit a spell, and listen.