Maybe it’s because I’m getting older and more nostalgic. Maybe it’s because I live in a more rural area now and neighbors’ homes are separated by more than a few feet. Or maybe it’s because it came up in a conversation at work the other day, and we wondered if neighbors still share like they once did.
When I was young, and my mother was busy preparing another homemade meal, it was not at all unusual for her to ask one of my siblings or myself to run to next door, in either direction, and borrow an egg, some bread, or whatever it was that she had ran short of.
Maybe it’s because people were more frugal and cooked more at home back then, but it seemed to happen somewhat often, and I do not remember ever returning without whatever it was that my mother needed.
Prior to moving after my first week in fifth grade — just days after I broke my arm in a backyard football game and a crowd of friends from the neighborhood gently escorted me home — my family lived in an area where many of the other families were much the same, with lots of young couples raising children.
It was a good place to learn and grow.
The neighbors on one side of us had several kids, all of them older than me. But the youngest was only a two or three years older and he spent lots of time teaching a brother and I the intricacies of football, baseball, sled riding and more. He also taught me how to ride a bike. I did not have my own bike at the time, so he cobbled one together from pieces of several old bikes, brought it over to our house, and told me it was mine. It was not exactly pretty, but it served its purpose just fine, and I was tickled to have it.
The neighbors on the other side had a daughter one year older than me and a son a couple years younger. If I look closely in a mirror, I can still see scars from the time the girl ran her fingernails down one side of my face after some type of disagreement. But those kind of things happen when you’re a kid, they were good people, fun to be around, and after we moved away and grew up, I came to know all of them even better.
My dad built a small basketball court behind that house on Josie Street. A couple of the neighborhood boys played on it from time to time. After a while, the net became frazzled. One day, completely out of the blue, the boys showed up at our front door asking if they could put a new net they had purchased on our hoop. I thought that was really cool, and it left a lasting impression.
I was not happy the summer between fourth and fifth grade when my parents told us we would be moving. For a while they looked at a home in the country. I did not like that idea at all, knowing there would be few, if any, kids nearby. But my parents eventually decided on a place on Pleasant Street, where we found a lot more friends and good neighbors.
So, when I told a co-worker the other day about sharing eggs, bread, milk and such with neighbors back in the day, she said that was pretty neat.
Some people would have you believe that those days are gone, that no one really cares about their neighbors anymore. But I can tell you that in my case at least, that is far from the truth.
While it may not be eggs, bread, milk and such anymore, the neighborhood I moved to a little over 17 years ago has often reminded me of that one when I was a kid.
Until last spring, I was too cheap (or maybe I just could not convince my wife) to buy a good mower. So I used old ones. They broke down often. When they did, I’d push them across the road to my late neighbor. He’d quickly take care of whatever was wrong, and never charge anywhere to close to what his time and the parts were worth. I also borrowed his mower once when I was dire need, and a time or two he mowed our yard for us.
When the snow gets too deep in my driveway, another neighbor comes and plows it clear. He has also pulled me out of the mud with his tractor when I got too close to our little stream and got the mower stuck. His wife has fed our pets when we are away, and she and my wife keep in contact whenever something unusual is going on in our neighborhood.
Another neighbor, who just moved after the passing of his wife, hosted our grandson many times after the school bus dropped him off and we had accidentally locked him out. He and his wife also collected our mail and watched over our home while we were away.
Other neighbors have helped in similar ways.
Maybe times have changed. Maybe there is more bad in the world than there once was. But at least in my little corner of the world, you can still count on your neighbors.
Jeff Gilliland is the editor of The Times-Gazette. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 937-402-2522. This column shared through the AIM Media Midwest group of newspapers.