Covid has not impacted socializing among my neighbors all that much. Truth is, we don’t socialize all that much. In this quiet neighborhood of modest homes, we simply look out for each other.
I’ve lived here by the river for thirty-eight years. All the neighbors who were here when I arrived have moved on or passed on. I even moved: from the house I lived in for thirty years to a smaller one next door. The population change has not changed the culture: no block parties, no multi-family yard sales. We mind our own business but pay attention.
One time neighbors noticed a side door to my house was wide open. I was out of town. They called police, who entered the premises with guns drawn and found no intruders. I’d apparently not latched the door adequately and it blew open. I was embarrassed when I heard about it later, and at the same time gratified that neighbors were paying attention.
Usually, looking out is more simple, like watering plants for vacationers, or picking up their mail. At this time of year, especially after a snowstorm, my neighbors not only look out but help out.
In the 1990s, after my husband was paralyzed by stroke, neighbor Doug cleared our driveway after each snowfall. Neighbor Jerry shoveled the front walk. One winter, Doug was recuperating from surgery and realized he couldn’t handle both his driveway and mine. He found a snowblower for me. I never did as meticulous a job as Doug, but I felt so macho, so in control running that little single-stage blower. By that time, Jerry was slowing down. After clearing my driveway, I happily steered my snow-blower to his place, clearing out the entry to his carport, which is now my carport.
Snow removal becomes particularly daunting after the city snowplow clears our street, leaving densely-packed snow berms that block our driveways. My snowblower cannot chew through that stuff. A couple winters ago, I was attacking the berm when a neighbor I’d never really met — a single mom — pulled up in her truck. Leaving the motor running with heater on for her toddler strapped inside, she ran home, grabbed her shovel and had the berm cleared within minutes.
As we grow older, we find ourselves more often on the receiving rather than the giving end of kindness. It’s humbling, and a little uncomfortable, an acknowledgment that our independence is waning.
After the first snowfall this year, Doug called to say his son Josh was on his way and instructed: “Do. Not. Pay. Him.” Josh has been on the job, gratis, all winter. I remember how Jerry used to venture out to the carport while I blew away his snow. He too must have felt humble, uncomfortable. He compensated with his penchant for irony. “I’ll send you a bill!” he’d call after I’d finished. I’d laugh.
I doubt Josh would understand if I tried Jerry’s line. I compensate with a humble thank you.