Want to get to know your neighbors? Get a dog.
When I lived in Nashville, I once left a note for the girl who lived in the apartment beneath mine, asking if she had constructed the compost bin outside her door and if I could add some of my food scraps. She wrote me a very nice note back, saying that no, she did not make the compost bin, and had no idea how it ended up on by her door, but we never spoke again.
When Dan and I lived in a planned community townhouse, we would walk down to our shared mailboxes and tentatively glance around at any neighbors who happened to be outside. Most actively avoided making eye contact.
When I grew up in a traditional single family home in Alabama, my family would remark on how un-neighborly everyone was. No one was downright rude (okay, maybe that one fellow down the street was, who always gave us the stink eye when we would pass by his house and wave), but no one was familiar and friendly either. Those who lived near us would say hello and smile, but--southern stereotypes be damned--they were not the types to get lost in conversation on the sidewalk or knock on your door asking to borrow a cup of sugar.*
So, when Dan and I moved into our first single family home last year, I wondered: Was chatting with your neighbors a relic of the past? Did neighborhood kids actually play in one another's yards anymore?
Our neighbors were kind on the day we moved in to our new place. Most came over to introduce themselves and made a bit of small talk. And then we never talked to them again--at least for the next three months.
That all changed when we adopted Gigi. Suddenly, we were thrust into the world of parenting a furry child, into struggles to keep our socks unchewed and compost unconsumed, head-to-head wars with squirrels for Gigi's attention, and mounting despair that dog hair would cover every inch of our floor and furniture, no matter how frequently we vacuumed.
With this new member of our family, and with the new challenges we encountered, we found camaraderie with fellow doggie moms and dads. Suddenly we were outside much more often, prey to the wandering nose of Gigi, with time to roam and meander. Instead ofmoving through the neighborhood with focus and purpose as I did during my runs, I took stopped when a neighbor waved and greeted Gigi. Those of us with dogs would complain about our fur children's (well, and human children, so I'm told) propensity to poop at the least opportune times and places. We would laugh about the irresistible thrill of chasing squirrels and rolling in the mud, and we would talk about our dogs' retrieving and swimming habits.
We began to get to know our neighbors. We noticed, on our afternoon walks, that neighborhood children would play basketball or enact a Star Wars sword fight in a cul-de-sac. Our neighborhood had ice cream socials and Santa visits, and some neighbors even threw block parties. The 1950s friendly neighborhood was alive and well, and it was right in front of us.
So, my question is this: Are these kinds of neighborhoods out there, and have they been there all along? Had I simply not taken the time to appreciate the banter and affection that results from slowing down, going through the motions of small talk, and allowing those awkward initial conversations to blossom into something more meaningful and substantial? Did Gigi help me to realize what was already under my nose? Or is our new neighborhood special?
I imagine the answer lies somewhere in the middle, but I'll take it. Speaking of which, I think Gigi needs a walk.
*I'm pleased to report that my parents' current neighbors are much more friendly!