Like a Good Neighbor
Jesse Coulter and Her Tight-Knit Community of “Freighbors”
by Jess Archer
Photographs by Drew Anthony Smith
How much do you like the neighbors on your street? Enough to call them your core group of friends? Enough to go on vacation with them? Maybe that feels like “loving thy neighbor” a little too much. But not for the residents of Ryon Lane in Round Rock, where lifestyle blogger Jesse Coulter lived for almost six years. Jesse, with her husband, Alex, and their three kids, has forged the deepest kinds of friendship with six families on the street. They are the kind of neighbors who holler, “Car!” to warn kids playing near the street. The kind of neighbors who don’t need to be home for you to use their pool. The kind of neighbors who turn their garage into “Ryon Lane Tavern,” and it’s a given that you’re welcome to pop in on a Friday night.
The residents on this tree-lined street, whose homes are a mix of ’60s ranches and ’80s two-stories, have attended the births of one another’s children and the funerals for family members. They’ve officiated each other’s weddings. And they even go on an annual vacation together. This is a group of people for whom the mashup term “frieghbors” truly works.
The houses on Ryon Lane probably won’t win an award for best curb appeal, but that’s not what makes the street so appealing anyway; it’s the sense of community care that defines the neighborhood. The homeowners on Ryon actively look out for one another.
“We notice when there’s an unfamiliar car in our hood,” Jesse says. In fact, the neighbors all tell a story of the time they spied a suspicious car that kept circling the street. Alex called the police. Turned out the driver had stolen the vehicle. “We’re totally nosy like that,” Jesse says with a laugh. But maybe a little bit of protective curiosity is what makes the street so safe.
On any given evening after a workday, the neighbors will gather on their lawn; the cluster of adults and turf-happy kids will grow in number and spill over into Olivia and Clayton Gustin’s yard. The kids ride their bikes and Mighty Moto scooters on the driveways. At the exact moment a car turns down Ryon, driving a little too fast, every parent outside calls out to the driver, “Slow down!”
The driver swiftly obeys, and the adults return to their conversation. Somebody’s toddler pees on a scrubby tree beside the Gustins’ driveway. “Oh yeah, every little boy and dog in the neighborhood has peed on that tree,” says Olivia. Everybody laughs. There’s a collective memory about the neighborhood; in fact, the residents have so much shared life together that at neighborhood parties they sometimes play “Ryon Lane Pictionary.” Every drawing prompt is an inside joke.
Some of the residents on Ryon Lane have lived there more than 15 years. Others moved in just a few years ago. But it seems all of them, no matter how long they’ve lived there, are invited into the community experience. Jesse notes, “When my kids have a birthday, I just send a big group text to everyone on the street that says, ‘B-day cake. Saturday. Our yard.’ I have never needed to send an invitation to my kids’ school friends. All their best friends are right here on Ryon Lane.”
But personal life gets gritty. And people tend to close their doors and hole up when things get real. Perhaps it’s the willingness to be vulnerable with their “neighbs” that has shifted Ryon’s residents into close friends. A few years ago Jesse got a call that her father had just a short time left to live. She was standing alone in her living room trying to absorb the news. “I stood there and saw that some of my neighbors were out on the lawn. So I went outside and cried with them. They were totally available for me in that painful moment,” she says.
When resident Alex Browning’s father passed away, all of Ryon Lane attended his funeral. A short time after that the Gustins were matched for an adoption. The Ryon Lane residents were all on vacation at Jesse’s family ranch when Olivia and Clayton got the news that the adoption had fallen through. Olivia says, “We were devastated. I ugly-cried in front of all my neighbors. But in the end I was so thankful to have them around me in that hard time.”
Last year, the Gustins had a new, successful adoption experience. When they were driving home to introduce their new son to their other children, Jesse made a bold move: “I called Olivia. I said, ‘Do you want me to come over and take a video of the moment your kids meet their new sibling?’ It was a private family thing, but Olivia trusted me to be part of that moment.”
But there’s an adage that good things never last. The party has to end. Jesse and Alex wanted more space for their three growing boys. The house on Ryon Lane just wasn’t working for them anymore, and renovating wasn’t cost-effective. They wrestled with the decision; after all, their community lived a stone’s throw away.
After much deliberation, on April 26, the Coulters put their house up for sale. They bought a bigger home 5 five miles to the north, in Georgetown. After just one week in the new house, Jesse sent a group text to all the Ryon Lane neighbors: “Come over to our new neighborhood to play at the splash pad!”
Jesse writes on her blog about the experience of selling their first home on Ryon, saying, “I pray the next owners find as much joy in it as we did and that they care for our neighbors.”
Maybe the Coulters are the litmus test for the sustainability of friendships among neighbors who move away from the village that is Ryon Lane. Now Jesse attends blogging conventions with a former neighbor, Vanessa Joaquin. When Jesse introduces her, she notes their friendship first: “This is my dear friend, Vanessa. Oh, and she used to be my neighbor.”