By Karen Wyman
Love thy neighbor
Can any of you answer the age-old Sesame Street question: “Who are the people in your neighborhood?”
I remember growing up and knowing everyone on my block, including their pets. All of us neighborhood kids would go on epic bike rides (sans helmets of course) or play group games such as “Manhunt,” “Ghost in the Graveyard,” kickball or Wiffle ball. As darkness fell, we waited until our parents yelled our names before we even thought about heading home.
Some of my favorite memories were created with my childhood next-door-neighbor. Her parents owned a furniture store, and we would spend hours playing “house.” No dollhouse could ever compare to those life-size decorated rooms. I remember calling each other on large rotary phones every morning to see what adventures lay ahead of us that day. Nowadays, I guess I would just check her Facebook status for my answer.
I wonder how we all met back then? We ran with a large pack of kids, without regard for age or background. Were we just outside more? Our parents never arranged “play dates” — we made the plans ourselves.
One of the things I enjoy about my current neighborhood is the effort people make to know each other. Our homeowners’ association hosts a winter and summer social every year, and we also have an annual neighborhood garage sale. If you don’t live in a planned development, you can still organize these events for your own street or closest neighbors. You could have a “Meat and Greet” where everyone comes together for a cookout. Some friends have a build-your own-sundae party before the start of school. Another family hosts an outdoor movie night. On a smaller scale, you can have a progressive dinner party, where each course is served at a different person’s home. Getting to know your neighbors helps create a sense of belonging and builds trust, which in turn makes for a powerful and connected community.
Although the Internet is one of the main reasons we may not hang out with our neighbors as much today, it can serve as a powerful tool to keep us informed. Social media sites can have pages devoted to your neighborhood where everyone can post happenings and events. Also, Front Porch Forum is a great way to get recommendations, communicate important information or to simply connect with neighbors for a common interest.
I am no David Letterman, but I have compiled my own Top Ten List. Here are the top ten reasons I believe why neighbors no longer know each other:
#10. Lawn services
Back in the day, the only people working on lawns were the homeowners. This created a great opportunity to run around with the neighbors while Mom and Dad were outside working. Today, hanging out with the TruGreen guys just isn’t the same.
#9. Decline of the front porch
This is another social tie that has gone by the wayside. People now hang out in their backyards on their decks. They probably don’t even know what kind of cars their neighbors drive or what time they get home from work. I used to be able to tell that it was almost supper time when I would see Mr. Whitcomb’s car pull in. Likewise, when I heard his car start up in the morning, I knew it was 7 a.m. without even looking at the clock. Today, if I wanted to be aware of my neighbor’s coming and goings, I would have to follow him on Twitter.
#8. The Internet
Many people can now work from home, do all of their shopping online and even have their groceries delivered. You can conceivably never leave your house.
#7. Gym memberships
Health clubs weren’t really around when I was younger. People would get their workout the old-fashioned way — walking/jogging/biking around the neighborhood. So, if you were out on your front porch or doing your own yard work, you would see them. Today, people head to an out-of-town gym or work out in their own homes with a slew of fitness DVDs. In the past, there were only so many times we could rewind those Jane Fonda VHS tapes before we gave up and headed outside for a walk.
#6. Dual-income families
There are simply fewer people home during the day. The adults go to work and the kids — and even the dogs — go to daycare.
#5. No free time
We have so many “time saving” advances, yet we don’t seem to be any more efficient. You’d think not having to get up and walk across the room to change the television channel or adjust the volume would give us at least an extra hour a week!
The media has scared us so much that we may actually fear strangers. They constantly remind us there could be predators or meth labs right next door to us. This doesn’t really encourage people to bring a fruit basket to a new neighbor.
If we get to know our neighbors, they may actually (gasp) ask us for a favor. We don’t want to water their plants while they’re away or help them finish their basement.
#2. School bus stops
It seems like the buses these days stop at each child’s house. We had one stop that the entire neighborhood walked to. That’s where we always met the new kids and got to know each other’s parents.
#1 reason I believe why we no longer know our neighbors is Mass merchandisers
Who really needs to borrow an egg or a cup of sugar when we now purchase them by the ton at Costco?
Karen Wyman has been a Williston resident for six years, and lives with her husband and twin 4-year-old daughters.