Good neighbors, great blessings

Family Matters, March 2022

By Claire Mullen

Even though one of the Bible’s great commandments says, “Love thy neighbor as thyself,” let’s face it: We’ve probably all had a neighbor somewhere along the way who’s been a little less than easy to love. Or maybe we’ve even been that neighbor.
In our 13 years of marriage, my husband and I have lived in three different homes in two cities and have been on both the receiving and giving ends of behavior that would not exactly be considered neighborly. We’ve had infants woken prematurely from precious naptime by incessantly barking dogs. We’ve found a downright rude letter, handwritten by a crochety ex-neighbor, in our mailbox demanding that we no longer mow our lawn on Sunday. Our trespassing children have picked carefully pruned roses without permission. And, I must admit, our preschooler son has developed quite the penchant for peeing off the front porch.

When we outgrew our small Haymount cottage rental and moved into what we hope is our forever home, we knew we’d have to step up our good neighbor game. We were the youngest residents of our new neighborhood complete with manicured lawns, an HOA, and quiet, courteous residents.

We worried about our tacky holiday inflatables and our tendency to let the grass get a little too high. We worried about our mutual forgetfulness, which sometimes meant that my husband had to run the trashcan from the backyard to the curb just as he heard the garbage truck rounding the corner, clad in nothing but his boxer shorts. The fact that I was eight months pregnant with our first child when we relocated meant that our new neighbors, like it or not, now had a front row seat for witnessing many years of young children doing the things that young children do.
In our white-picket-fence, neat-hedgerow fantasy, we dreamed that our relationship with our neighbors would be something akin to the Mertzes and the Ricardos and hopefully not reminiscent of Mr. Wilson and Dennis the Menace. What we’ve actually found in the eight years that we’ve been living on our cul-de-sac is something even greater than we could have imagined: Neighbors who have accepted and embraced us even in the instances when we aren’t being so loveable.
Just next door are Buzz and Ann. “Mr. Buzz,” as my children affectionately call him, is a prominent builder with an immaculate home and a yard that “Mrs. Ann,” an avid gardener, expertly tends. From the day that Buzz rang our doorbell, Key lime pie in hand, to welcome us to the neighborhood, they have shown us nothing but love (and an awful lot of grace).

Without fail, on each holiday, I’ll get a call from Buzz saying with grandfatherly enthusiasm, “I could have sworn I saw the Easter Bunny hopping over to your mailbox,” or “I think I just spotted a chubby guy in a red suit delivering something over your way.” My children delight in my report of what Mr. Buzz has witnessed, and race down the driveway to retrieve a perfectly wrapped seasonal goodie that sweet Mrs. Ann has picked for them. And, on the fateful day that Buzz left his garage door open, my wayward little ones snuck out of our back gate as I cooked dinner and made their way through his garage and into the kitchen, Buzz threw his hands up, laughed and exclaimed, “This is great! I Love it!” when I found my giggling children running amok in his spotless home. After I corralled them back to our house and doled out a major scolding, my daughter protested, “But Mom! Don’t you remember? Mr. Buzz said we are welcome to come over anytime we want!”

There are Jay and Charlene, across the street. While I’ve had the pleasure of knowing their family since I was a little girl in a giant hairbow sitting behind them in church, I never imagined that we might one day be neighbors. Jay and Charlene have come over in the cover of darkness to hide Easter eggs for our children to find in the morning. They’ve allowed us to use their backyard as a stashing place for a giant trampoline from Santa. Mrs. Charlene and my second-grader routinely exchange little treasures: a painted rock left in the mailbox; a favor returned with a vase of freshly cut hydrangeas tied with a rainbow-colored silk ribbon. They remember birthdays and deliver the most fun and perfect gifts, like a giant bag full of feather boas of every color and tin cans of silly string.

George and Carol Ann, two doors down. Patient Dr. George who indulges my son when he runs down to show off things that 5-year-old boys are extra proud of, like a Carolina Panthers jersey birthday gift, a brand-new two-wheeler bike, or whatever slithery “pet” he’s acquired from the backyard. Carol Ann, who just laughs and announces with zero judgment in her voice, “It’s good for them!” when she jogs by my barefoot and bathing-suit-clad children, gleefully stomping in puddles that are a little more mud than rain, on a chilly day of a month in which swimsuits should not make an appearance.

Just recently, it was our turn to welcome new neighbors. When we saw the “for sale” sign go up next door, we waited with great anticipation to see who would land there. And let me tell you, we could not have picked a more perfect pair if we tried. We walked a potted plant over to Meghan and Jeremy’s doorstep, invited them over for chili by the firepit, and shared a laugh when they arrived with the same bottle of our favorite Sauvignon Blanc we’d gotten for the evening, purely by happenstance.

We really hope that we can be as good to them as our neighbors-turned-friends have been to us. What we’ve learned in our eight years on our little circle is that the best kinds of neighbors are the ones like ours who love you just the way you are, pet snakes and all.