Tag Archives: neighbors

Curmudgeon in training

It’s quiet and peaceful on my back porch today, but it won’t last. New neighbors are on their way, a couple with three young children.

It was inevitable that someday we would get new neighbors. The couple next door are 94 and 95. (I struggled there with whether to use “are” or “is.” I know a couple is a singular thing, but when I turned them into individuals to tell you how old they were, they turned plural. I have a dear friend who blogs about words. This minor dilemma doesn’t rise to the level of interesting language usage that she writes about, but I’m sure she’ll appreciate the diversion.)

In any case, our lovely, elderly neighbors moved to an apartment in the center of town so they wouldn’t have to deal with stairs anymore. He’s been going back and forth to clean out the house and ready it for sale and now, I’ve heard, the deed is done.

Once upon a time, the house was a barn. It’s built into a hill and the back door, which appears to be upstairs from where I sit, opens onto a flat bit that’s blocked from view by a fence. The side yard is separated from that bit by the same fence. A picture should make that clearer. Here you go:

neighbors house

The gazebo jumps out at you, doesn’t it? In twenty years, I’ve never seen either of my neighbors sit there. Because no one uses it, I’ve been able to enjoy it as the bit of backyard kitsch it is. Once filled with children, however, I have no doubt that it will lose its dubious charm.

Maybe the new neighbors’ children will be quiet, clean, charming little things. But when they move in it’s likely that I’ll spend more time on my front porch where there’s no gazebo in sight.


Abandoned, by people I hardly knew…

The For Sale sign appeared without warning and before many days had passed, the word Sold was nailed on top, the letters much bigger than the ones in the sign below, tacky in their obvious bid for attention. It hadn’t even been a year since those neighbors had moved in and our reaction was swift and strong. How could they possibly leave us?

M came over to deliver the news in person. She didn’t know me well, but somehow she knew I would be devastated. We were very much alike, she and I, if you discounted the twenty-five years between us. She had been offered a dream-job in Pittsburgh, no, she hadn’t been looking, and had convinced her husband to make the move. They would be leaving with their two young children before the month was out.

The age difference tilts the other way with the neighbors across the street. H and J are my parents’ age and have been keeping an eye on us for years, taking care of our cats when we go away and spoiling Hannah. M told me that after her mother met me she said she was relieved that we were next door, presumably because we could act in loco parentis if necessary. I probably am M’s mom’s age, but I didn’t feel maternal so much as connected.

M and J seemed to be younger versions of ourselves.  They were like-minded, sharing our worldview, our politics, our sense of humor, our religion. At least, I like to think they did. We didn’t actually spend much time together. We meant to, really we did, but since they had young children we weren’t sure how to go about socializing with them. I was looking forward to the spring when we’d be able to hear each other in our yards and could call back and forth to initiate a visit. If we’d been better, more proactive, neighbors we’d have more reason to miss them, but that’s cold comfort.

The house is actually on the street that runs perpendicular to ours. We see the right side of it from the back of ours. Before M and J moved in last spring, it was occupied by two elderly sisters. The shades were always drawn, and we rarely saw lights in the windows on the side facing us, so we never bothered to put curtains up in our kitchen. There didn’t seem to be any need for privacy. We reassessed when M and J moved in, knowing that one of the rooms facing us had their infant son in it, and the other was their bedroom. They assured us that they weren’t bothered by our lack of curtains, so our windows stayed naked. Recently, when it was time for their son to go to bed, we made faces at each other from our windows. I could feel the affection.

The Gentle Giant moving truck was here yesterday. The movers loaded up the contents of the house and rumbled away, Pittsburgh bound. Last night the house was empty. It won’t be for long, but that knowledge doesn’t help. I don’t want to get to know new neighbors. I want the ones we had. I’m sure that over time my feeling of abandonment will fade, but I’m going to go buy curtains for the kitchen anyway.

Fielding balls in the backyard

Behind the house where I grew up was a tennis court. It belonged to a neighbor whose extensive property included several acres behind our house. We didn’t have much of a backyard; it abutted a low stone wall behind which was a standard, neighbor-separating wooden fence.  Towering above that fence was a practice backboard. Most of the year, weather permitting, we’d hear either the soft plop of tennis balls being hit back and forth on the clay court, or the bang, bang, bang, of a solo player practicing on the backboard.

Sometimes there’d be a “Darn!” and a ball would fly over the fence. Sometimes it would be the other way around. Then, from the kitchen window, we’d watch someone climb over the stone wall, drop into the yard, take a quick look around, scrabble through the pachysandra and hop back over the way they’d come.

If we were outside at the time, and heard or witnessed the event, we’d call, “Hang on,” and send the ball flying back over. However, there were times when we’d be out sun-bathing, or reading, or otherwise hanging out, and we’d be oblivious to the advent of the ball and surprised by the appearance of the tennis player. The surprise was often mutual and we’d watch the ball chaser’s visage change from slightly annoyed to hang-dog when they discovered that they were not alone in our yard either. I never minded these intrusions. In fact, I quite enjoyed them.

Some people guard their privacy. I am not one of them. As I write this I am sitting on my front porch, listening to the bees in the wisteria and keeping an eye on the world as it wanders by; willing it to wander by. If I’m lucky, someone will notice me and wave hello, or venture up to the porch for a chat. If I didn’t want to be bothered I’d stay in my office upstairs, or enjoy the weather on my back porch where, until recently, I would have had all the privacy anyone could want.

We have new neighbors on the far side of our backyard fence, a lovely young family with two small children. We’ve had several neighborly interactions with them and last weekend they invited us, via text message, to come to a barbecue to celebrate their little boy’s first birthday. Feeling a little awkward and shy, we ventured over. Most of the guests were visiting family members from New York and Pennsylvania, including an eight-year-old whose batting prowess was such that several balls had to be retrieved from other neighbor’s yards during the course of the party.

The next day, while I was sitting on my front porch, one of the out-of-town relatives and his eight-year-old appeared from behind my house and strolled down the side, looking for a lost ball. I was surprised, but not unhappily. I joined them in their search, even introduced them to another neighbor so we could look in their yard, too, but we couldn’t find it. Later, when I told my daughter this story, she said, “Oh, they found it.” She had just watched the new neighbor cross our backyard to retrieve it.

Now that I’ve shared this snippet of my life, it occurs to me that it’s less about the relative merits of privacy than it is an admission of how much I like company, no matter where it comes from, or how it gets here—as long as no windows are broken in the process.

Elderly suitor

My eighty-six year old neighbor has a crush on me. I’m going to call him John, because I don’t know his name. John is Greek and his English is minimal, so conversations are painful and time-consuming. I try to stick to weather observations like “beautiful day” and “it’s getting chilly,” but he persists in our version of chatting, so over time I’ve learned a thing or two about him.

He lives down the block with his wife and a cat (or two, or three). He has a daughter in Connecticut who is, apparently, a great success, and lives in a house I think he bought her, with his grand-daughter. Another daughter passed away a couple of years ago. I think the cats were hers. Most days, he takes a walk up and down our street. His wife does not join him, but sometimes one of his cats does. He carries a very tall stick as a cane, and moves slowly.

If I am outside when he passes by, he stops to say hello. If I am actively engaged in something, he will stand on the street and watch me. After a while, if I don’t stop what I’m doing to join him at the curb, he’ll walk onto the lawn towards me. He does this even if I’m mowing the lawn. When that happens, I feel obliged to stop the mower to say hello since clearly he is going to pursue me until I do, even though it strikes me as an outrageous intrusion.

He kisses me hello on the cheek. The first time he did that, I allowed it out of some convoluted sense of respect for his age; that and I didn’t know how to repel him politely. Lately, he has professed his love for me. I want to believe he means like the love he feels for a daughter, but given his limited English, I am not sure, particularly since one of his words is “jealous.” He told me he was jealous of my husband. If he is like most other elderly men, he is probably just taking advantage of his advanced age to get away with saying mildly inappropriate things. But I am no longer comfortable letting him kiss me, and I don’t know how to make him stop.

I have taken to avoiding John when I can. If I’m thinking of going out, but I see him on the street, I wait until he’s gone. Recently, I ran away from him. I was across the street, chatting with another neighbor, an older woman he likes to hug hello, when he came by. We said hello and then I told him we had something to do and dragged her back to my house, up the driveway and around the back. We congratulated ourselves on getting away and continued our conversation. After a few minutes, I walked back to the driveway – where he was still standing, waiting for my return.

Winter is my least favorite season; I hate the cold. This year, however, I’m looking forward to it, because it will curtail my elderly suitor’s constitutionals. If John’s intentions are innocent, I can tolerate them for the sake of an old man’s happiness. If, however, they are not, I do not want to encourage him. Since I don’t know how to discern his true motives, I guess I’ll spend my winter reprieve dreaming up creative ways to avoid him come spring.