For a short time after we moved in, I did not have any immediate neighbors. Now I have the usual complement of “adjacent” neighbors – one on either side. I have never been to either neighbor’s house. With one, we chat every weekend, standing in our respective backyards. Often, we do this while holding (i) weeds; (ii) sprinklers or hosepipes, (iii) lawnmowers, (iv) shovels and so on. I have found that there is nothing like a shovel in your hand to stimulate conversation.
We rarely chat with the neighbors on the other side, because they never have any shovels in their hands. In fact, we never see them in their yard. We wave at each other when we are driving past, and we chat when they come out on their yard – about once in six months. Then there was the time when R looked out of the window and found the Wife’s car stuck in the snow in her driveway, so he rushed over to help.
We hadn’t seen the Husband in a long time. The only time I had seen him was before they moved in, when he complimented me on our landscape and wanted the name of the landscaper. I never saw him after that, the husband that is. I did see the landscaper, and was quite pleased to find him doing their landscaping. But they are a friendly sort, the wife and the two children, though they keep to themselves, and for that matter, so do we.
Then yesterday, we met the wife near the mailbox. After some small talk, she mentioned that, as we probably knew, her husband had passed away a year earlier. We hadn’t known.
I am still recovering from the shock. Apart from all the sadness I feel, I also feel rather guilty that I should have somehow helped her out as a neighbor. Of course, I had no idea about her husband’s passing, and I strongly suspect my other neighbor still has no idea about this.
I went on the internet and soon I had discovered that he had died of cancer last year, just before a long weekend (when we had been out of town). The family had since done some fund-raising for that type of cancer. We hadn’t received any flyers, so we had no idea about the fund-raising part either.
Back in India, the friendly neighborhood maid network tells you all you need to know (and much more) about your neighbors. I am sure there is also a lot of reverse traffic, but at least, you get to know important stuff like this. Here there is no such network, though if you have kids of the same age, I suspect there would be the playground gossip network.
In the old days, the rules for good neighborliness were very clear – you meddled in all your neighbors’ affairs, and they meddled in all of yours. You helped each other out, and gossiped behind each others’ backs. Very easy rules to follow.
What are the rules these days, when neighbors hardly know each other ? What makes a good neighbor ? if you had asked me before, I would have told you unhesitatingly that if someone seems friendly and returns your greeting, they are good neighbors. Then why do I feel guilty that I have somehow failed to be a good neighbor ?
Sigh. I wish I knew.