Monday, January 31, 2011

Good Neighbors

Beyond the window, boughs of fir trees bend beneath the snow. Mounds of white, indistinguishable, conceal stone walls, porch railings, a grill and rose bushes. A cloak of quiet muffles all sound. Well. Except for the sound of Eddie’s snow blower.

That might sound like a complaint. Far from it. For our neighbor never fails to pilot that blower across the street to clear off our driveway and a path to our door. When winds whirl and snow falls, Eddie’s the cavalry, a sight as welcome as the good guys astride mighty steeds.

My husband Dave smoked a slab of salmon for Eddie and his family in thanks, but Eddie says, “No more gifts, now. I don’t do it for presents.”

And we know that, but what a blessing to have neighbors who watch out for us.

Soon after we moved to Easton, my parents came to visit. My mother spotted a road sign that made her nervous. It portrayed an eye, open wide, and the words “Neighborhood Crime Watch” in bold letters. “Oh dear,” said my mom. “That doesn’t sound good.” I explained it did not mean this was a high crime area, but rather that people looked out for each other.

She wasn’t entirely convinced.

A few years later, I was at work when the school bus pulled up to our house to drop off my twelve-year-old daughter, Casey. We lived in a safe neighborhood and had a large dog, but Nancy, the bus driver, was unnerved when she noticed a man in a baseball cap at the front door. She kept Casey with her and called the police.

Officers responded quickly and apprehended the man a few blocks away. He said he was looking for directions. Maybe. But for Nancy, it might have gone very differently.

And I can’t even think about that.

Nancy left Casey with her friend, George, who lived down the street. George’s mom called me at work to explain the situation and said, “Casey can stay here all afternoon, so take your time.”

Of course, I was frantic and did not take my time, but sped home to pick up my girl. As I hugged her, weepy with gratitude, I said, “Sweetie, just think of all the people who helped you! Nancy, the police, George and his mom!” It was a wonderful message about how much it means to live in a community that cares.

That was fifteen years ago, and a recent robbery around the corner again showed the importance of neighborly bonds. Within a few hours, I received a call and an email alert. Eddie and his wife, Laurie, said, “Don’t worry, we’re keeping an eye on your place,” and of course, we’re keeping an eye on theirs.

Through the years, we have minded each others' pets, picked up mail and newspapers, and lately, attended to leaks. Until this winter, I’d never heard of ice dams, roof rakes or the usefulness of old stockings stuffed with salt, but foot upon foot of snow has increased my anxiety when snow is predicted and fostered new knowledge of snow-management strategies. Last weekend, Dave and I went to visit my parents, anxious about abandoning batteries of saucepans and plastic containers perched on windowsills and positioned under spreading ceiling stains. “No problem,” said Laurie, who came over to empty the make-shift buckets. And last night, when Dave was up shoveling off the roof, Eddie came by in his chest-high waders, wielding a roof rake to help.

Who said, “Good fences make good neighbors”? Thank goodness for Google – it was Robert Frost. He looked like a kindly soul, but I hear he was a curmudgeon. And clearly, he was clueless. Blowing paths through the snow, keeping watch, and caring: that’s what makes good neighbors.