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Kristin’s Column: Good Neighbor

Good Neighbor

I thought it was adorable when my kids took off walking through the neighborhood to sell items for a school fundraiser. My tall son Luke in his official school football attire flanked by his little sisters in their school uniforms—plaid skirts and collared shirts. Aww, how old fashioned and cute. It reminded me of the good old days when my girls wore Brownie uniforms with knee socks and pulled a red wagon full of thin mints around our old cul-de-sac.

Luke didn’t bring his sisters because he wanted quality sibling time. Lord no. He is just smart. He knows that he is rather shy and his twin sisters are extroverted, experienced marketers. Sales are certain when you have a dynamic sales pitch followed by simultaneous blond twin head tilts and wide smiles. And it was hot, so he wanted to be done as quickly as possible. I went inside to cook dinner.

It was almost dusk, and I was expecting them home any minute when my phone rang. “Uh, Mom?” It was Luke, and he sounded terrified. “Can you drive over to the next street? The cops are coming.”

What the hell? “Yes, I’m on my way!” I grabbed my keys and forgot to turn off the oven.

I drove around the corner and saw flashing lights illuminating my three children who were being questioned by a police officer. I pulled up crooked behind the cop car and hopped out. My girls were sobbing and Luke was sheet white.

Our neighbor had called the police because she felt threatened by trespassers in her yard. Trespassers? Threatened by children clad in a football button down shirt and khakis and private school uniforms? I was livid.

It has been several years, and she has never smiled or waved at me again. She never said she was sorry. She never asked how my kids were faring in juvie or how their PTSD recovery was going.

The police officer—convinced the danger was under control—shrugged at me, smiled and left. I ushered my traumatized kids into the car. And then I spotted her, the seemingly nice lady who walked her dog past my house every day and smiled and waved at me. The one who said she liked my stories in Tribeza and remembered when my kids were little and she watched the Tour de France on TV. I looked at her, and she looked at me. Our eyes met and she realized she knew me, and my kids, and had just called the police to have them arrested. She mumbled something incoherent and fled into her house and slammed the door.

It has been several years, and she has never smiled or waved at me again. She never said she was sorry. She never asked how my kids were faring in juvie or how their PTSD recovery was going.

I have to ask, what happened to the good old days?

Remember when neighbors helped each other build barns or harvest crops? Okay, me neither, but I do remember block parties and neighborhood cookouts. I remember buying countless boxes of Girl Scout cookies, Cub Scout popcorn, and candy bars to benefit the marching band. I love a good lemonade stand with a hand-painted sign and sticky, sloshing cups of pucker-tart lemonade made from powder. I’ve let entrepreneurial little girls walk my dogs around the block for ten bucks. I pay patriotic Boy Scouts to post a flag by my mailbox on Memorial Day, Veterans Day and the 4th of July. I bought poinsettias and pumpkins to support a church youth group going on a mission retreat. I’ve driven lost dogs home to the address on their tag. I’m not Mother Teresa. I’m just a neighbor and that’s what neighbors do.

We try to be nice and friendly. We look out for each other. We pick up our dog’s poop even if no one is looking. We put the newspaper on the front porch when we get the chance. We water each other’s plants and feed each other’s dogs when we go on vacation.

And we try to give all our children some tiny example of what it was like to grow up in a place where you could ride your bike until dinnertime, borrow an egg or a cup of sugar, repent and repair after breaking a window with a baseball, and feel safe just knowing you were known.

Read more from the Neighborhoods Issue | June 2017