When our children were very young, they spent part of almost every weekday watching “Mr. Rogers” on public television. Fred Rogers was a soft spoken, quiet man who offered a children’s program full of gentleness and everyday-ness, qualities that contrasted starkly with the rapid-fire stimulation and frenetic pace of “Sesame Street.” “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood” was the first line of the song he sang at the beginning of every program, and the song ended with the words, “Won’t you be my neighbor?” As I remember, while he sang this song, Mr. Rogers first took off his “outside” shoes and put on his sneakers, and then took off his jacket and put on his cardigan sweater. Always the same song, always the same routine. I think this was his way of pretending with the children who were watching that he had just arrived in the “neighborhood” and that he was getting himself ready to spend the next hour with them. .
A neighborhood is one of the many spaces in which we spend our lives every day. In our neighborhood, In the past 2 or 3 years, four of the homes close to us on our street have changed ownership — the most recent just last month in August.
We moved into our house in this neighborhood 26 years ago. At that time, the people right next door to the north of us had already been long-time residents. It is their house that just changed ownership in August. During our many years as next-door neighbors, we developed regular and predictable ways of interacting and sharing our worlds. Garden talk, weather talk, grandchildren talk, house maintenance talk, health talk, travel talk — friendly, amiable almost-daily exchanges.
So what happens when somebody new moves into the house next door? Well, our newest neighbors are a family with two young boys, so hearing the sound of children’s voices coming from that yard during the day and early evening is a new phenomenon. The two cars in the driveway are different — one white and one dark green. Whereas the previous owners mostly used the large family room at the back of the house for their everyday occupations, we now see lights on in the front rooms and the dining room. With the previous neighbors, especially in recent years, we always informed each other if we were going to be away for a few days, or even for overnight; but, for now, with the new family, it’s still a guessing game (“I think they’re gone for the weekend”).
It’s hard to say goodbye to the longtime friendship and familiar routines of the former next-door neighbors. At the same time, however, all the changes that come with having new neighbors are in their own way refreshing. It’s fun to look ahead to the months of getting to know the new family, watching their children grow, and sharing the house talk and garden talk and family talk.
Later this month we will be gone for a few days up to a cottage on a lake in northern Wisconsin. Before we go, I will make sure our new neighbors know where we will be and how many days we will be gone. Maybe that will jump-start a routine for us to keep an eye on each other’s homes when one of us is away. Or maybe not. Together, we will gradually find our own way to be next-door neighbors to each other — a way that is comfortable for all of us.
And we will continue to enjoy “a beautiful day in the neighborhood.”