Full Circle: Love Thy Neighbors
Well, at least get to know their names

Some new neighbors just moved in. I did what all good neighbors do these days. I hid behind the blinds and tried to get a good look at them.

The old neighbors lived across the street from us for about 10 years. Maybe 12. I think their names were John and Carol. They had kids, a boy and a girl, I remember. But, since kids don’t play outside anymore, I really couldn’t tell you their names or how old they were. But I do know that people with kids make the best neighbors. Well, fences make the best neighbors. But people with kids come in a close second.

It wasn’t always this way. Where I grew up, you never cooked dinner the first night you moved into a new house. The neighbors brought it to you. Covered casseroles in Pyrex plates. Fresh vegetables grown in their own gardens. And cakes they spent all day baking. From scratch.

Back then, back when cars were big and houses were small, we knew the name of every person in every house. And there were 64 houses on a block. We knew them, we knew their kids, we knew their favorite ice cream from the Jack ’n Jill man.

When we started a family of our own and moved to SJ, life got even friendlier. The day we were unpacking our boxes, in the four-bedroom home we paid $36,000 for, we heard our first official knock on the door. It was a well-dressed woman carrying a big wicker basket. She looked just like June Cleaver.

“Hi,” she said, “I’m from the Welcome Wagon.”

And she really was. A smiling face bearing gifts. Coupons from different merchants, freebies for the whole family. A brand new calendar from the local funeral home. And, the best gift of all, a pan of fresh brownies that she had spent the whole day baking. From scratch.

The Welcome Wagon Lady gave us the lay of the land, the scoop on the schools, the dish on restaurants, even the best ways to get around the Marlton Circle.

I used one of her coupons the very next day. Went to the hardware store at Main and Maple. I loved it that we now lived in a town with an intersection of Main and Maple. The hardware store was right next to the taxidermy place. I had a coupon from them too, if I ever wanted to mount a moose.

“Good morning,” the man in the hardware store said. “You’re new in these parts. Just moving in?” I hated looking like a newbie. But I answered all his questions. Two minutes later, he not only knew I wanted to put up some shelves, he knew the names of my kids and their favorite desserts. Four minutes later, he offered to come over to my house and help me with those shelves.

“We’re kind of slow today,” he said, “I can close up for an hour or so and spend my lunchtime helping you out.” The man didn’t even know me. I could have been an axe murderer. Or a man who hated moose. Didn’t matter. Seemed that “love thy neighbor” thing I learned in Sunday school was alive and well in New Jersey.

Soon, I starting going to town meetings, shopping at all local stores, taking my kids for pottery lessons at the crafts store, even knowing what time the fresh pumpernickel bagels were baked at the bagel place.

But those, sadly, were ancient times. These days, a social outing means going to Starbucks and leaving your earphones on. These days, when people won’t even give you the courtesy of a turn signal. These days, when fresh air is merely a spray made by Glade, the whole idea of love thy neighbor seems to be so old school, so corny.

Well, sorry folks, but I’m a corny guy. In fact, I’m going to finish this column and do what I should have done a long time ago. I’m going to walk across the street and meet the new neighbors. And I’m bringing brownies.

May 2012
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