I’m now living in a kind of neighborhood that I thought only existed on the Mister Rogers TV show. For instance, years ago, when I moved to Connecticut, I walked over to my immediate neighbor on the right to introduce myself. I guess she must have seen me come up her driveway, because she met me outside her back door, standing there with her arms crossed over her chest, prison matron-like. She barked, “What do you want?”
I backed up a step, put my hands up in surrender and stammered, “I…we just moved in and…I just…wanted to say hello.”
“Well, we didn’t have any trouble with the people who lived in your house, so I hope we don’t have any trouble with you.”
“Uhuh. Well, nice meeting you,” I said with probably a touch of sarcasm as I backed carefully onto the road. That was my only attempt to get to know my neighbors. I decided to wait for someone to come to me, but nobody brought an apple pie to my door. Though I lived there over 30 years, I never learned the names of the people nearby.
Then I moved to my little complex in Florida. As I was unpacking the car, a woman walked up the driveway. “Welcome to Pinebrook,” she said with a big smile. How nice. We chatted for a bit. She invited me over to her villa for tea where she gave me restaurant tips and explained how things worked with the board of directors, etc.
When I left in the late spring to go home to sell my house, she offered to look after my villa. She even collected my mail and called me if something looked important. I’d tell her to go ahead and open it, and she would fax it to me if necessary. Actually, she helped me out for two whole summers before I became a full-time resident. She refused any kind of payment.
The people in this honest-to-god neighborhood are kind and helpful and not at all gossipy or nosy. One day when I was in the pool, I told a woman that I was thinking of buying a bike even though I had not been on one in longer than most people on earth have been alive. “You can have mine!” she said brightly. “I don’t use it any more. I’m never going to ride again.”
“Really? Well, only if you let me pay for it!”
“No! Don’t be silly. Saves me the trouble of taking it to the thrift store.”
So, I took her bike. It was a little rusty, like me, but worked fine—like me. So, though scared to death at first, I began enjoying it and then loving it. I feel twelve years old as I ride up and down my little street. Second childhood has arrived, and it’s fun.
Yesterday, I was swimming alone in the pool. A man came up to the fence and asked, “Did you lose these?” He was holding up a sheet of postage stamps. “I found them here by the mail boxes.”
“No.” I stopped for a moment.
“See anyone else come by while you were swimming?”
“Yes,” I said. “Fran and Joan came by for their mail.” I know people now. I learned their dogs’ names first—like Gizmo, Adelaide, Tucker, Aspen. But I didn’t know this man who was a new owner. He introduced himself, “Hi. I’m Darren. My wife’s name is Cathy.”
“Oh, yes. Lovely woman!” I called out as I dogpaddled in place. “Met her at breakfast this morning!” She had sent out a group email, and six of us managed to roll out of bed to get to a restaurant by 7:30 am. We’re going to do it again next month (a little later, so a few more might show up.)
He left to go see if one of the women I had mentioned had lost the stamps. I continued to swim marveling that he didn’t do a “finders/keepers” and take them. They were, after all, just lying on the sidewalk.
I swam on feeling utterly blessed to be living here. I thought about a few weeks before when some women put together a buffet for Fran’s visiting family and friends after the funeral of her husband who died suddenly. I made some quiche and soup to take. It felt good to do something so, well, neighborly.
I got out of the pool, and as I was drying off, noticed my purse and remembered that I, too, had stopped at the mailboxes. Uh oh. I looked inside for the new stamps that I had bought. When I couldn’t find them, I laughed, phoned Darren and left a message, “Well, if there is just one missing, they may be mine after all!”
Later, as I was making dinner, I heard a knock on the door. It was Cathy, bringing me the stamps. Mr. Rogers would have approved.
Early this morning, while I was riding back and forth on my little street, I saw Peggy, the woman who had given me the bike, walking down the driveway in her nightgown to collect the newspaper (no need for shyness here. It is a cul-de-sac and we’re all friends). I stopped and thanked her again. She smiled. She has the kind of sweet face that takes a lifetime of goodness to mold. “So glad you’re enjoying it,” she said. We chatted a bit about how much we love living here.
I rode on singing, “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood…” and wished everyone lived in a Mister Rogers neighborhood too.