neigh•bor [ney-ber] noun
- a person who lives near another.
- a person who shows kindliness or helpfulness toward his or her fellow humans: to be a neighbor to someone in distress.
In college I lived in Lathrop Hall for 3 years. It was definitely a community, and my neighbors were my friends, my extended family. We leaned on each other, entertained each other and literally lived in each others’ one-room “homes.” But once I left the dorms, neighbors became those people who happened to live around me, who were loud from time to time or parked near my vehicle, and were friendly enough in passing, but ultimately just occupied a shared space.
When Keith and I got married, we bought a house several miles north of Columbia. Although it was sparsely populated all the way to our road, our home sat in a random subdivision of 9 houses. We moved in during the winter/early spring, and for months we thought we were surrounded by aliens because we never, ever saw any humans outside the houses. Technically we had neighbors then, but even though there were people living a yard away, I never felt like I was connected to anyone.
The year we lived in Maine was the first time since leaving Tarkio that I felt it again – a connection with others who lived in my general vicinity. We had neighbors on our dead-end street in town, but unlike Columbia, but we shared a driveway with an elderly couple who were friendly and caring, in a classic New England way. They rarely initiated contact – in fact, I don’t recall them ever coming to our door – but they were thrilled when we visited them, invited us in with open arms, plowed our half of the driveway when it snowed, and gave us a place to check in when there was an emergency. I will always be grateful to them for their kindness…but it just wasn’t the same as home.
Today, we get to live in a big old farmhouse in northern Atchison County – on a Century Farm, how cool is that. We get to be a part of this house’s history, and in that history are a host of families who have called this Farmers City neighborhood home for decades. Our two closest neighbors are a mile away in opposite directions. I grew up with one of those families, and the other has shown kindness that only comes with sharing a road in the country. Out here, my neighborhood is not contained by a road or a couple of blocks. I’ve never mapped the exact parameters, but I’d estimate that it goes at least 4 miles in any direction.
I’ve spent some time analyzing the difference between life here and life on our little road north of Columbia. Are the people in rural Atchison County innately more kind than those who lived on Tracy Court with us? [My totally unbiased opinion is, um-OBVIOUSLY! ;)] Not necessarily. But, they were different. We did have cows in our backyard there, but I’d venture to guess that our Tracy Court folks weren’t there because they loved the land. More likely, they were there because (like us) they didn’t want to have neighbors quite so close. And that translated to a kind of indifference – we didn’t need each other, we weren’t friends, we had our own lives and this is where our house happened to sit.
This is the thing unique to rural neighborhoods – we are few, we are far between, and we need each other. Sometimes it’s for little things like a cup of sugar (because driving 10 miles back to town when you forget something is ANNOYING). In the winter months, we keep each other company (even over the phone), dig each other out after storms and discuss road conditions. Our remoteness makes it that much more enjoyable to drop off a plate of cookies and sit for a spell, or be a part of the Christmas cantata at the church up the road. I suppose community happens in all kinds of neighborhoods, but out here, it seems to be more of a sustainer than a byproduct. Out here, we really do need each other – and I love it!