City Folk, You Puzzle Me: Do People Really Not Know Their Neighbors?

I know everyone on my road by sight and by name. I’ve been into almost every house on my road, and I’ve looked after animals, gardens, mail, and other sundry matters for my neighbors -- and they’ve done the same for me.
Publish date:
April 16, 2013
rural life, culture shock, neighbors

So apparently GOOD Magazine came up with this idea called Neighborday, to be celebrated on 27 April, to get people interacting with their neighbors and their communities. The idea is that people don’t know their neighbors and if you hold a party, maybe you’ll magically to trust them, or something.

The whole idea is actually totally hilarious and alien to me, because, like, woah, culture shock. It’s things like this that remind me the bulk of media is concentrated in urban areas, where people view neighborly relationships very, very differently. I don’t need a designated day to party with and meet my neighbors because I already do know who my neighbors are, and I interact with them on a more-than-superficial level on a very regular basis.

On our little road, while I’ll call Huckleberry Avenue, we all know each other pretty well, especially at the end of the road, where we stick together. We pool funds to pay for regraveling and grading of the road periodically, we invite each other over for dinner parties, we look after each others’ animals, we know where our spare keys are, we know who to call if a deer needs to be put down after snapping her neck on a fence (true story -- though I was in Chicago at the time).

To wit: this morning I wandered over to my closest neighbors (about whom more in a moment) to ask them if they’d feed the cats while I was in Chicago next week, and they gave me a dozen eggs. Bam, I just defied two neighbor statistics: I both trust my neighbors and rely on them to do me favors (and I do them favors in return). Also, I know them and am aware of their hobbies (we even trade books with each other because one of my neighbors and I are both into military history).

So, meet my neighbors.

These are my two closest, Chico and Joy:

They’re part-timers, having access to our pasture half the year and grazing on their own property, which is one over from mine, the other half of the year. Chico is a total pig and goes ballistic for any snacks that come even vaguely near him. Joy makes delightful half-braying noises of eagerness when he sees you and thinks you might come by and scratch his neck.

The ladies also spend a fair amount of time in the pasture:

That’s where the eggs this morning came from, actually. One of the things I love about the ladies is that they’re very committed to eggly diversity. Brown, blue, green, and whitish are all available. And these eggs are serious business, with dark, rich, yellow yolks. They’re unbelievable for baking and make the best quiche you’ve ever stuffed down your piehole.

The ladies belong to the hominids I share my parcel with, who happen to be my landlords (they also have a cat named Ziggy who loves to bask on my porch). We exchange produce from our gardens, I give them cookies and bread sometimes, and we enjoy a pretty awesome landlord/tenant relationship even when I’m blowing up the septic tank or destroying the water main by ramming into it with the lawnmower.

Across from us live a couple who used to be their tenants way back in the day, living in the very same house I occupy now. They have an old dog named Cooper who likes to hang out in their driveway a lot, and they have a fantastic garden. They’re artists, and their house is amazing. Next door to them is another couple with two dogs, Daisy and Vita. They are steadily building up a pretty great garden, and one of them shares my one-eyed perspective on the world. Their house used to belong to my landlord’s brother.

You can see the neighborhood entanglements already and we haven’t even gotten to the people who own Chico and Joy (along with a very regal cat named Teddy and chickens of their own) or the older woman who lives across the street from them. Then you have a woman who was recently widowed (yes, I attended the services), and the real estate agent with the horses in his backyard, and another woman with more dogs, and the nurse from the hospital.

I know everyone on my road by sight and by name. I’ve been into almost every house on my road, and I’ve looked after animals, gardens, mail, and other sundry matters for my neighbors -- and they’ve done the same for me.

Lest you think I’m painting a picture of some kind of bucolic rural lifestyle where everyone holds hands and sings kumbayah while they celebrate their neighborliness, I assure you that things aren’t always harmonious on Huckleberry Avenue.

There have been some dog-related disputes, and there was a Peacock Situation, and there were some entanglements over≈ responsibility for a tree that fell and subsequent decisions to call PG&E. But overall, we get along. We work our shit out. We help each other out. We do these things partially out of a sense of neighborly obligation; we share fences, we all live on the same road, the things we do affect each other, but also because most of us genuinely like each other and have complex connections that in some cases go back for decades.

The idea of not knowing my neighbors is actually really odd. Why wouldn’t you? They’re in the ideal position to help out when you’re in trouble, and some of them might be cool people, to boot.

That's not always the case, of course. Shitty people can live anywhere and be terrible neighbors in the process, but everywhere I've lived in my community, I've established relationships with the neighbors and in most cases I've been friends with them.

Watching Twitter when Sandy was devastating the East Coast, for example, I was struck by how many people were stuck in the City, or were trying to get help for family members, friends, animals abandoned in apartments, and more. In many cases, if they’d known their neighbors, these issues could have been resolved a lot more quickly.

It seemed funny to me that people were turning to strangers on the Internet (mind you, I love strangers on the Internet) for help because they didn’t even know how to reach the people in the apartments next door to them.

There are a lot of things about rural life that can be suboptimal; but at least I know my neighbors, and I’m fortunate enough to have awesome ones who are fantastic and trustworthy people whom I’m honored to know not just as neighbors, but as friends. And in times of hardship, or when you really need a stick of butter and you don't want to drive to the store, that can mean a lot.