When I was a kid, growing up in Wilmington, NC, we lived on Merrimack Drive – a flat and sandy street in a neighborhood called Pine Valley. It was a great place to grow up with long straight streets, perfect for bikes or skates and family walks or bike rides around the block after dinner. I learned to ride a bike on that street. I learned to skate on that driveway. My sister and I played for hours in the playhouse my Dad built for us. We rode across the backyard on the zip line he put up using a “pulley” that his Dad had welded for us. It was a different time, with three channels on the TV (Black & White, of course), rotary phones, the cold war and the civil rights movement. A bike was our preferred mode of transportation and in the summer we rode the flat streets of Pine Valley from morning until the sun was setting or it was time for dinner. We even rode our bikes behind the county truck that used to spray or fog the neighborhood to kill the mosquitoes. That truck put out a thick fog that we would lost in. (No telling what it did to us!)
Mr. Whitfield lived next door. He was an old man, long retired who used to sit on the front porch of his house and watch us play in the front yard. Many times I would spend hours with him on his front porch listening to his stories about life, his family, the war and how he grew up. He was an important part of my life and I always enjoyed our talks and often wondered what happened to him after we moved to Jamestown, NC.
One of the things that stands out to me about this time in my life is that my parents seemed to know the neighbors. Not just a wave once-in-a-while as we passed them on the street, but really knowing them and their kids and family. Mr. and Mrs. Taylor lived across the street and they would have cookouts in their backyard. My sister and I would hang around and play with their kids and the others in the neighborhood and then head across the street to our house to put ourselves to bed. Those evenings were warm and humid filled with mosquitoes and the sounds of crickets and frogs. We didn’t have air conditioning so I remember falling asleep listening to those night sounds and the adults as they laughed and talked across the street into the night. (Mrs. Taylor had a very distinctive laugh)
Today my family has lived in our neighborhood for about 17 years now. We know some of our neighbors – mostly those in close proximity – but it doesn’t feel the same. Sure I can go to our neighbors on the right of us and borrow just about any piece of equipment you can think of. The home owner is a very nice guy and maybe one of the “handiest” I’ve ever met. He can fix just about anything with a motor on it. He and his wife and family are very nice – but we don’t spend our evenings together. We mostly just wave once-in-a-while. We have a nice couple across the street with two young boys. They are friends and we have some things in common like our faith and music. He plays guitar, as I do, and we’ve both led worship in churches. We don’t spend much time together, though, just a chat once-in-a-while from the back of a mower.
Up and down our street we are “familiar” with most of the neighbors but I wouldn’t say we really know any of them. We all drive off to our jobs and come home tired, I suppose. We lock ourselves tightly in our air-conditioned homes in front of our large, flat-screen TVs and venture out infrequently – to get the mail, or move a trashcan or take a walk.
In Pine Valley in the late 60’s we would take a walk or a family bike ride after supper and it would take us a long time to it make back home because our friends would see us on the street and come out to stand and talk until it was getting too dark and the street lights were starting to come on. In our neighborhood today, we can take a family walk after supper, pass house after house and never even see a neighbor.
So what has changed over the years? Why are we so distant from those who live closest to us? When was the last time you even considered borrowing an egg or some sugar from your neighbor? One of us would likely jump in the car and head to the store before knocking on their door. Has a neighbor of yours ever baked two pies and brought one over for you and your family? Have you ever sent a fresh batch of cookies across the street? Why do all these things sound so foreign to us now?
Maybe it’s time to change the tone in our neighborhoods by opening our doors or inviting someone to our table? Maybe we could be a light in this world and reach out to others. Maybe we could show them what we know about community and how to be a family together.
Maybe never got me anywhere. Besides – it just too hot outside, and we’re too tired and with a new season of Castle coming on soon – well, maybe next spring.