When I was a kid, we only infrequently visited neighbors, but my parents did spend quite a bit of time on the front porch during the summer, idly watching kids playing in the street or visiting with whomever might wander by on an evening walk. I also remember sitting on my cousins’ porch, or rather, I remember my mom and aunt on the porch while the kids played running bases with the dads or older cousins throwing the ball. Summer clearly defined what it meant to be neighbors, and with kids chasing and capturing fireflies late into the night, and adults visiting on the porches until wee hours, summer brought neighborhoods into clear focus. It allowed us to see each other at some of our best moments.
That feeling of neighbors and neighborhoods has waned for me, especially as I began a working life while living in the city. I’ve lived mostly in apartments and condominiums, and in the absence of front porches and the laziness of summer days in kid-packed neighborhoods makes neighbors less consequential. It isn’t that we actively avoided neighbors, it’s just that city living, and apartment dwelling make getting to know neighbors more of a challenge. I suppose the somewhat transient nature of living in a college neighborhood also contributes to what defines neighbors.
Even as I write this, though, I am reminded that we’ve been moving around quite a bit, and now that we are settled with children in a condominium building with families, we’ve spent more time with other families in the condo parking structure that doubles as a kids’ play lot. It is concrete and often filled with cars, but it also has witnessed kiddie pool parties, chalk drawing, bike riding and soccer playing. We make do, and even though the impromptu parties happen less frequently with busy families, when they do happen the adults talk while the kids invent their own games.
In Three Oaks, “neighbor” takes on a whole new meaning. In the year that we’ve been here, our neighbors have become not only people we spend time with, but also people we rely on for help. When a fierce spring storm toppled a hefty limb of an ancient maple on our property, our neighbor arrived with his chainsaw to chop and remove the fallen tree. The same neighbor has cleared our driveway of snow and helped us to secure a gazebo in the yard. I’ve begun to contribute ice cream, and we keep the neighbors entertained with Gorilla Girl’s and Monkey Man’s antics, and I suppose we bring something new to the mix of already established neighborhood relationships.
In the evenings here, we often gather across the street with a few other families (some year round families and others who are part time Chicagoans, like us). We talk of the day, the town, and our lives while Monkey Man and Gorilla Girl capture fireflies. We consume beverages, dessert, cheetos and ice cream. We stay out late, take GG and MM home for baths far into the night, and sleep in the next morning because we can. The impromptu evenings are relaxed, and each night a different friend or neighbor stops by. The folks under the umbrella on the swing and in the wooden chairs change places, like chess pieces, in the slow dance of summer twilight.