Do you know your neighbors? Should you know your neighbors?
Bring up the topic and everyone has a story about a neighbor. Usually they are funny in hindsight and involve an imbalance. Like a "chatty Cathy" neighbor always wanting to gossip, or someone so reclusive there's never been a sighting.
To complicate matters, everyone defines a perfect neighbor differently. My ideal neighbor would do the following: say hello, check my mail and watch my house, shoo ravens and bears from my garbage, comment when I look nice, provide cooking ingredients, alert me to good weather coming, notice if my tires are low, loan me power tools and mechanical advice, proofread my stories, remind me to file my Permanent Fund Dividend, call me when solicitors are heading my way, babysit the kids in a pinch, and make me feel okay about the junk pile on the side of my house.
Luckily, I have this all rolled into one neighbor - they've got my back. It might be better if multiple neighbors each took on a few of these traits so my one neighbor isn't burdened with my high maintenance. But after five years on the block, I've never been in anyone else's house, haven't had many conversations and don't know anyone else's story. What if we have big things in common that will make me feel warm and fuzzy? Or what if I got to know them, and found out I didn't like them or they had a shady past?
Some swear friendly neighbors will make life more pleasant. By being the neighbor you want to have, you might get that reflected back. Here are some thoughts on improving neighbor relations.
Make yourself available
Take walks around the neighborhood and say hello to people in passing. Or sit or work in your front yard and act approachable. Have an open seat next to you for a short visit.
Meet new neighbors
We just had new neighbors move in next door so I arranged for my "good" neighbor and I to go in on a little homemade goodie basket. I had the kids draw some pictures of our family and we included some baked goods, smoked salmon, homemade jelly and assorted teas in a bag and hung it on their door on move-in day. They stopped by to thank us and I learned their names, occupations and landscaping plans. Could be the start of a beautiful friendship - and with two boys, it's nice to know there's a nurse next door.
Lend a hand
If there are any struggling elderly people on your block, offer to help them somehow or give them your phone number in case of an emergency. This will foster good feelings and make them feel a little safer. If you are the struggling elderly, don't be afraid to ask for neighbors' numbers or hire neighborhood kids to help out with strenuous chores.
Pets and music
Noise seems to be a big problem for many people. My mom fought with neighbors over their barking dog by blaring Mexican music full blast in their direction when the dog wouldn't stop. The neighbors in turn reported my high school parties and I spent a summer weeding the side of the house. However, this led to their son helping me and we started dating.
Walk the line
There's a fine line between being neighborly and nosey. If you want to talk, leave your neighbors wanting more, not wishing you would go away. Just a little information will go a long way.
Have an open mind
Neighbors are thrown together with no real rhyme or reason except that they can afford to live in the same neighborhood. A tree hugger can live next door to a logger, a Republican next to a Democrat. Use this as an opportunity to get to know the "other" a little. With some common ground, maybe some understanding can be reached.
If that doesn't work, as Robert Frost said, "good fences make good neighbors."
This is the last Straight Talk column. Thank you for reading. Courtney Nelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.