My first association with the word ‘neighbors’ was not a good one. In fact it was preceded by the word ‘nasty’. My family referred to the next door neighbors at my first childhood home as the nasty neighbors. Before I was born my parents announced that they planned on building a fence on their property line. The neighbors responded by threatening to throw boiling water on them.
When I was about four years old my mother heard what sounded like a cat meowing in distress coming from the home of the nasty neighbors. When she knocked on the door she encountered a putrid smell but got no response. She called the police who were also unable to get a response when they knocked. They broke in to the house and a few minutes later they emerged frantically crying out and scratching at themselves. They had been attacked by a swarm of fleas that resided in the house along with the couple’s 9 cats. The couple had been sitting in their bedroom watching TV the entire time. They probably suffered from some kind of untreated mental illness.
The neighbors on the other side of us were pretty cool though. They let us play with their cats, who were flealess. They gave us rides on their riding lawn mower and Christmas presents. One year my brother opened up a package from them to reveal a pink tea set and I opened up a package to reveal a blue helicopter puzzle. My mother decided they must have inadvertently switched our gifts, intending to give me the tea set and my brother the puzzle. Having his pink tea set taken away from him caused my brother to have a meltdown of epic proportions. It was an honest mistake on our neighbors’ part though and it wasn’t their fault my mother enforced such rigid gender stereotypes.
The next house we moved to was next door to a small white house inhabited by seven Chinese men. They all worked at the local Chinese restaurant. We sensed their situation wasn’t entirely legal but we minded our own business. We knew next to nothing about any of our other neighbors. We weren’t the most gregarious, neighborly people.
At our third house my parents become involved in a war with the neighbors in back of us over Juniper bushes. It involved cursing, yelling, angry letters to the police, false accusations of rock throwing and actual throwing of dog poop.
Our neighborly relations there weren’t all bad though. We eventually became good friends with neighbors who for years we hadn’t known aside from one antagonistic encounter in the beginning. About two years after we befriended them, they moved away. We lamented the fact that we had lived in the neighborhood for years without enjoying their
About two years ago my mother and I moved to Illinois only to return a month later, as it had been the move from hell. There were various factors that made it hell. We initially thought our neighbors were great. We had moved across the street from family members of ours, expecting to enjoy warm, affectionate family relationships but we were soon beleaguered by family strife. We found we were visiting each others’ houses not to be one big happy family but to complain about each other.
We were quite touched when the girls who lived down the street knocked on our door to give us cards welcoming us to the town. We felt less welcomed by the next door neighbors who we suspected were either vampires or running a meth lab since they rarely came out and always had the curtains down. We were disabused of that notion when they introduced themselves to us and were proved to be nice, friendly people. Of course we had to act like all the information they told us about themselves was new to us and we hadn’t been stalking them on Facebook.
Then we found out the neighbor in back of us was a convicted pedophile. His name showed up on our Wi-Fi and that didn’t exactly inspire feelings of warmth and comfort. To be fair, the neighbors probably didn’t have a great impression of us either. In the one month that we were there, my mother had run through the streets screaming twice, disturbing the neighborhood peace. A spider in the mailbox and a dog that’s suffocated on a chip bag are pretty valid reasons to scream though.
When my mom was telling friends the horror story of our move to the Midwest, I made sure she didn’t forget to mention the pedophile in the back yard. She agreed that the pedophile in the backyard had been a nice touch.
Our most recent move was to a retirement community. We moved there despite knowing that it would make us neighbors with a friend of my dad’s who has a tendency to be ..uh…socially inappropriate. He had humiliated me by pointing out in front of everyone that I was missing a tooth and asking if I was going to fix it. I enjoy our strolls through the neighborhood but in the back of my mind there’s always this fear that we’ll run in to good old Claude and he’ll point out that I still haven’t gotten my tooth fixed. Maybe he’ll also point out that I have a zit on my chin, my mother’s face is wrinkly and we’ve both put on some weight while he’s at it.
After the house had been purchased, it was a pleasant surprise to learn that old friends of ours would also be our neighbors. When we saw their son in the neighborhood he gave us some good advice. He said “A lot of the residents of this community are 80 or 90 years old so don’t get too attached to your neighbors.”