Saturday, April 7, 2012

Looking Out for Each Other

"I think Bob's C-PAP machine is on the way!"

It was the voice of my neighbor Phyllis, who lives three doors down on the first corner of our street. "It's a red car with "Medical Services" on the side. And it's's parking in front of your house. Oh, good! Call me later and let me know how things are going!"

Half an hour later, just before the respiratory therapist from the C-PAP supplier left, we got a call from our next door neighbor Louise.

"Is everyone all right??" she asked. "I came home and saw that Medical Services car in front of your house and got worried. I hope you guys are okay."

I smiled as I hung up after reassuring Louise that all was well  -- once again amazed and delighted at how neighbors here look out for one another.

It reminds me of the caring neighbors in the small town in Kansas where my grandparents lived. Their farm was about half a mile out of town and the nearest neighbor was Mrs. Boone, whose house was down the road. One night, when I was visiting my widowed grandmother during one of my college spring breaks, I stayed up late reading in my upstairs bedroom.  The phone rang and I heard my grandmother answer. A few minutes later, she came up the stairs smiling. "That was Mrs. Boone down the road," she said. "She saw a light on here and was wondering if someone was sick."

Grandma laughed when she saw my shock. "This is small town Kansas," she said. "And we do look out for each other."

A native of Los Angeles, that has not always been a fact of life for me. True, when I was a child growing up in a suburban L.A. neighborhood built quickly after World War II for returning veterans, I enjoyed a friendly and amazingly economically diverse neighborhood. One next door neighbor was a used car salesman, the other a college professor. Our neighbors across the street included a lawyer next to a waitress at Foster's Freeze. And everyone had kids -- and we were in and out of each other's houses constantly. Our parents were all friends. There were neighborhood parties and spats and celebrations. We all knew each other well. I thought it would always be that way.

But when Bob and I bought our first house in Valencia, a lovely planned community north of Los Angeles, we were stunned to find that, most of the time, we barely knew our neighbors. 

There were some exceptions: We were friendly with our next door neighbors Pete and Carol, a gruff older couple, though we never really socialized with them. But we had some nice talks over the backyard fence after these former cat-haters fell in love with our cat Freddie. Pete sometimes called after a hard day at work and asked if we could hand Freddie to him over the fence so he could have a stress-reducing "Freddie Fix." We watched each other's homes during vacation times. And our hearts broke when they died -- he of bladder cancer in 1994, she in a fire that gutted their home eight months later.

We also befriended Dan and Lydie who moved into the house after it was rebuilt. But we didn't see each other that much. Dan and Lydie worked long hours and commuted by train to Los Angeles. Bob and I had horrible commutes and long work hours, too. Like all the others, we would pull into our garage at night, closing the door after us.

Only disasters seemed to bring us all out into the open: the Northridge earthquake in 1994 that devastated our area, the fire that killed our neighbor Carol in 1995, made us aware that we were surrounded by lovely people we didn't know. A neighbor down the street, observing that we really ought to get together when a disaster wasn't happening, hosted a potluck party not long after the 1995 fire. We laughed and hugged and promised to get together again soon. But we didn't. The mind-numbing commutes, work hours and inertia proved to be too much.

When we sold our home of 29 years and left Valencia two years ago, only Dan and Lydie knew us well enough to say "Goodbye" and to keep in touch. 

Things are very different now.

We know our new neighbors here well and, despite differences in life experiences, political opinions, religious beliefs and interests, we've become an extended family with all that implies -- from celebrations to spats to comfortable drop-in visits and stories and feelings shared.

It's delightful.

Sometimes it can be life-saving.

My friend Kim recently told me that a neighbor of hers who is an insulin-dependent diabetic had a foot wound that he had been ignoring -- until several neighbors, including Kim, nagged him repeatedly to go see his doctor. And his doctor said he had sought treatment just in time to prevent more serious complications.

It is often life-enhancing.

As neighbors, we share special moments and sad times. We have a chance to experience and to see acts of kindness and times of courage.

The other day, my next door neighbor Louise baked a cake and hosted a birthday party for our neighbor Padma -- despite the fact that Louise had a houseful of kids and grandkids visiting from Seattle and that she was also suffering from a kidney stone. She smiled through the party -- with 23 invited guests -- and very few realized her personal agony (from the kidney stone not from visiting family!)

And neighbors grieved this week when Phyllis' sweet and beautiful 12-year-old canary Nelson died. News travels fast: I was driving down the main boulevard this morning in our golf cart when I spotted Marsha walking her dog. Marsha, who lives about a block away from Phyllis, flagged me down to ask anxiously about Phyllis' latest heath crisis and also to double-check the news about Nelson. "I heard that Nelson has passed away," she said. "Is that true? Oh, no. Of all her pets, Nelson was my favorite. He was such a sweet little bird who sang so beautifully."

And everyone has been concerned this week about Phyllis herself, in the hospital for the fourth time in as many months, this time for emergency surgery. We're all hoping and praying that this surgery, at last, will help her to regain her health and vitality.

And I wonder: is our new-found closeness with our neighbors the result of all of us having more time now that most of us are retired?

Is it because we all come from different places and are willing and eager to create a new circle of friends in this new community?

Is it because we have new priorities now that the demands of our jobs and commutes are gone, the kids raised and we can focus on connecting with neighbors, on building new dreams and re-discovering old pleasures?

Maybe it's all of the above.

Walking down the street, as I pass each house, I think of the people who live there and marvel. I know their names. I know -- to varying degrees -- who they are. I enjoy every one of them and feel comfort in their warm friendship.

In some ways, it feels like a trip back to my childhood, visiting my grandparents' small Kansas town and back home in suburban Los Angeles, in the exuberant years after the end of World War II in a neighborhood filled with my childhood friends and their parents who befriended my parents. We were all extended family, sharing life's ups and downs, together.

All these years later, it's truly wonderful to have re-discovered a real community of new friends who feel so very much like family.

I love the fact that we look out for each other.


  1. You live in a truly wonderful community. I love that you all are connected in each other's lives, but not in a busy-body way.

    It's always such a comfort to know someone else "has your back". It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood!

  2. So true. Thinking back, I realize that the places we were most in touch with our neighbors was when the kids were growing up and their relationships to the other kids on the block flowed over to the parents.
    In our full time RVing lifestyle more and more people stay in their RV's these days - watching TV, doing computer - rather than circulating and meeting other's in the RV parks.
    Nice blog - reminded me of growing up in North Dakota too.

  3. I can relate to so many pieces, growing up in a small town, living in L.A. and working long days, not knowing anyone in the neighborhood, and then moving to this little hamlet where neighbors keep in touch with each other.

    You have just described all the benefits of living in a small community.
    I love that you can drive a golf cart down the street where you live!

  4. Thank you neighbor!!! and actually we are hoping to REALLY be your neighbor, we are going to be moving to AZ in 2 months!! Goodyear or Surprise I've missed reading your 'stories' and insights

  5. I love this! This is what I hunger for. I want to feel like I am in a community again. Our neighborhood is so fragmented and unfriendly. It always has been.

    Former neighbors, who lived next door to us in our former home, moved to Sun City West about eight years ago. We went to visit them a few years ago. Donna was determined to find us a house down there. We drove all over while she looked for deals that knew about. I found several I would have bought on the spot. I was intrigued with moving down there for many reasons. I loved everything about the lifestyle, except summers in AZ, and would have moved then and there, but my husband really did not even want to think about it. I know that the community aspect of where you live is one of the best parts of it all.

    Maybe someday, I will have my dream home in AZ while keeping one in CO for summers.

  6. It is wonderful for you and your husband to have found this community of friends and neighbourliness that was lost to you for so long. Modern life has extracted from so many of us a very high price -- our time and our fellowship with those around us.

  7. I would love to live somewhere EXACTLY like that.
    I think we have a need to be connected.

  8. Oh Kathy.....aren't small communities the best....I so agree with what Sweet Tea says.



  9. How comforting to have good neighbours. Wishing your friend Phyllis a return to health.

  10. How lovely to have rediscovered, indeed helped to recreate community, Kathy.

  11. Being connected to our neighbors is no small thing. I've lived for nine years now on a street that is the envy of many neighborhoods around us. I know the name of everyone in each house on both sides of the street and they all know me. We gather every July for a block party, and used to gather on holiday mornings at 8 a.m. to fire a miniature cannon and drink Mimosas and just visit. That hasn't happened for a year now due to the fact that several of the older neighbors have been very ill with terminal diseases.

    Looking out for each other is vital, and as you say, can be life-saving. Many of the people on my street have lived there for over 40 years. Sadly, they're elderly and becoming sick. In the last year, two have died. We're all aware of each other's challenges and keep an eye out for everyone, and in times of illness and personal struggle help take care of each other. I'm glad your neighborhood has this same sense of community and caring. It's invaluable.

  12. It's all of the above, I think, Kathy.

    We visited a Tucson RV resort in January. We were there for three hours visiting friends, and by the time we left we'd decided to rent a park model there for two months next winter. Unbelievable friendliness!

  13. Kathy, I do understand each of the periods you have described. We have been in our home for twenty six years and in the same city for forty two years. We passed in and out of those periods over the years. I don't miss the long hours at work or the mental exhaustion when I got home. I stayed home when my children were young and worked in their teen years. Fortunately their character was formed by that time and we never had problems.
    We have been in the golf cart community long enough to make the connections of which you speak. A leisurely cart ride can take hours by the time we finish our visits with neighbors.
    For this I am thankful.
    I hope that Bob is doing well.
    Fondly, Ginger

  14. Honey this post brought back a lot of memories for me when I was growing up. Just the other day I wrote a post about visiting Warrenton with the Oliver family that I grew up with.
    It was a totally different life then and amazing how we all loved and took care of each other as neighbors.
    I am so glad you live now in that kind of neighborhood. You can't compare this kind of life because it is the best in the world.
    I miss it but good to hear that there are still neighbors who do connect to each other.
    Think of you everyday and so wish I were your neighbor but will just have to enjoy you on here. lol
    Sending you Easter Blessings and best wishes for a Happy week.