When we moved into our home eighteen years ago this month, our neighbors across the alley introduced themselves. Gladys and Bob, both about 80, filled us in on the history of the neighborhood. How everyone had lived in the area for over forty years except the young couple to the east of us. “They aren’t too friendly,” Bob said. “Police are over there too many times.”
His last statement didn’t seem to bother husband, but the thought of the police being their often didn’t give me much comfort.
Winter came early and husband shoveled snow. He started at our driveway, then the alleyway for Bob and Gladys and our vehicles, on around the corner for Lillian’s, the widow next door. He finished up by coming down our front sidewalk. Bob let husband use his snow blower. That made the clearing out the white stuff easier.
The snow seemed to hang around forever that year. Often Gladys and Bob asked us in for coffee and cookies after the snow removal.
When spring came husband and I introduced ourselves to our neighbors—all but the young couple next door—although their children talked to us, the parents did not. Husband said not to worry about it, but I invited the kids into our house several times. The ten-year-old boy I’ll call Jim had a reputation for destructive behavior in the neighborhood. I figured if we became friends, maybe he wouldn’t destroy our property. (I’m being honest. I really did think friendship might work miracles.)
So when I second-handed I found clothes and toys for the three kids next door. One day after I delivered a sack of goodies to their house, the father followed me out into the yard.
“Don’t do that again,” he snarled.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to offend you. I don’t have kids here and I enjoy your children’s visits. These cost me little or nothing and I just wanted to share.”
“Well, all right.” And with that he stomped back into his house.
I backed off the gift giving for awhile.
In May 1996 my father and mother drove to Omaha from Oregon. Dad cut down several trees in our yard and when he had to “limb” the trees and haul the wood to the street, he asked Jim to come help him. Dad could talk about anything and he and Jim became friends. Buddies. Dad called Jim “Butch.” Have you ever noticed a nickname gives you a warm-fuzzy-special- type of person feeling?
The middle of June my parents left Omaha to drive back to Oregon. Thirty-six hours later my father was killed in a car crash. When we received the word, we alerted our neighbors and told them we would be gone for a period of time—we didn’t know how long.
When husband and I walked next door to our “unfriendly young couples” house, the house where the police still visited too often, we wondered what kind of response we might get to our news.
The children cried when they heard that Grandpa Orin died and that Grandma June was in the hospital. The father also had tears in his eyes. He looked at me and said, “I’m so sorry to hear the news about your dad. He was a good man. He was really good to my son. We’ll watch your house for you, don’t worry about anything.”
And we didn’t worry about our house or anything in it while we were gone. The effort to befriend children opened the door to touch a heart and possibly build a neighborly friendship.