“Hey, good neighbor!”
This used to be a greeting—not by me, maybe not even my parents, but my grandparents might say, “Hey, good neighbor!” I was little when I first heard it, and never thought about it until a couple of days ago, when three names and three stories came to mind.
Ruby and Mack were our first good neighbors when we moved to town. Our second daughter Maggie was a newborn in a car carrier and our daughter Mallory was a toddler. We were heading to our apartment entrance and an older couple was in front of us.
Ruby and Mack were strangers to us and for that reason we said nothing but waited politely for them to get their mail. Ruby came over and said, “Oh, what a beautiful baby,” and that was that. They became good neighbors and Ruby and Mac became second grandparents to our children.
Ruby had arthritis in her hands, but that didn’t stop her zeal for scrubbing things down to the shiny bone. She and Libby would turn over apartments. Libby would do the carpets, I would paint (not much good for anything else) and Ruby would scour the stove and refrigerator back to the date of manufacture, tsk-ing and muttering “Lawd!” at the grime that had accumulated.
I brought a pot of split pea soup over to them once and Mac (from the South) just kept saying, “Mmm, MM!” like it was the finest meal he ever ate. To this day, whenever I eat split pea soup, I think of him.
They were good neighbors, but if Ruby hadn’t started the conversation, we probably never would’ve talked, and they would never have become good neighbors. They would’ve remained people who lived next door, and the treasure would never have been found.
Our adventure in the country started when I saw a small piece of land for sale. While I forget exactly how I met Al and Nyla, I will never forget how kind they were. We bought an old house in the central part of town and planned to move it out onto that acreage.
Two young people with great ambition, little experience and less money. And did I say foolish?
We bought a house that had to be moved and the land to move it on, and never thought that we might need permits for both!
Well, Al and Nyla gathered the adjacent neighbors and arranged a meeting. Libby dressed the girls in their best home-sewn dresses, white tights and black Mary Janes, and the neighbors signed a petition asking that the county board allow us to put that house down.
It was a terribly cold winter that first year and the pipes froze. I was at work and snowed in. Libby called Al. He was at least 80 but he loaded stuff on a plastic sled, walked over to our house and with his son Todd, cut the frozen pipe, pieced another section of copper in and soldered the whole works. Hasn’t leaked since.
Another time I was trying to bust loose a big nut off a rusted bolt and asked Al if he had a crescent wrench for the job. He gave me an enormous crescent wrench about two feet long. “You might as well keep it,” he said. “I don’t have any use for it.” Well, he probably did (why else buy it in the first place?), but it hangs in my garage. His name is engraved on it: Al Sando. I am proud to own it.
Dwayne Jackson lived down the way. He was another petition signer and a Ford tractor owner. He plowed a strip around the edge of my property so I could plant some trees for a windbreak, and then another patch for a garden. I gave him $75, which was probably an insult, but what I could afford. He was a good neighbor, too, and I miss him. Both the Jacksons and the Sandos have “gone to their reward”—another antiquated term my Grandpa might say, but I feel explains it perfectly.
Mack has also gone to his reward, but we had a chance to visit with Ruby and her daughter Sheila, the other day. It had been more than 30 years since we were neighbors, but the years fell away in their company.
Today I have people who live next door to me, but only a few neighbors. They are busy and much more prosperous than we were at their age. They probably don’t need any of my amateurish help; they can afford far better. The lesson Ruby taught me has been hard to apply. It’s hard to visit with someone you hardly ever see.
But now it is April. Glorious Spring and wondrous Summer! We are more intentional now. Each night includes a walk around the neighborhood. We greet the guy in his yard. We stop to watch the kids shooting baskets. We ooh and ahh over the baby in the stroller. Our goal isn’t 45 minutes of cardio, it’s trying to remember the names and faces of the few that will become good neighbors.
We are treasure hunting for good neighbors. It’s an excellent pastime and one I heartily recommend.