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Connections make for beautiful days in this neighborhood

January 06, 2008|By KATE COLEMAN

Until a friend mentioned that he doesn't know his neighbors ? not even their names ? in the Hagerstown apartment complex where he's lived for the past several years, I hadn't given too much thought to how much I appreciate mine.

I'll admit to knowing the names of more dogs who stroll past my house than the people at the other end of the leashes ? Benny and Petey and Paisley and Emmie among them, but folks are friendly. We don't breathe down each other's necks, but it's nice to know that "like a good neighbor" ? we can be "there" for each other.

For the past three years, my next-door neighbors Darrell and Susan have hosted a block party. The first one got rained out ? big time. I was out of town in 2006, but I made it on the last Indian-summer-Sunday this past October.

It's a pretty simple proposition. They distribute fliers announcing the date and time, asking people to bring chairs to sit on and a dish to share.

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There were neighbors I know and others I was happy to meet. The gathering was an opportunity to have actual conversations with people when the usual connection is just a wave in passing.

There was a range of ages ? from a young baby to senior citizens. The variety of food was wonderful, but not everyone indulged in the full range of offerings. I was tickled to notice that a few of the little kids at a child-size table were dining off plates that featured nothing but frosted cookies and bright orange cheese balls.

In the 15 years and few months that I've lived in my Hagerstown neighborhood, several individuals have become friends I can count on, friends who can count on me. They have keys to my back door and I to theirs ? and those keys have been used on more than one occasion.

Chuck and Lisa unlocked my door and rescued me in mid-November when a fever resulting from a totally surprising kidney stone literally knocked me off my feet. Chuck sang "Waltzing Matilda" as he danced me to the emergency room.

My other next-door neighbor, Neale ? 98 years young ? has become a close friend and inspiration. She's up and out to church early on Sunday mornings, delivering my newspapers from the driveway to the back door before I surface. I try, but don't often succeed, to beat her out on Monday mornings before she brings my trash can in from the street.

I phoned Neale to check in one evening in early December. Her phone was uncharacteristically busy for more than an hour so I decided to go over, knock on her door and make sure she was OK. I rapped and called, pounded and yelled, but she didn't respond. I couldn't open the storm door because the previous night's snow had melted from the gutter above and frozen it shut.

Not a problem in my neighborhood. I called Darrell on my cell phone, and he and his son, Jack, arrived within minutes ? with shovel, ice-melting compound and superior strength.

Neale was surprised but happy to see us. The off-the-hook phone was put back on, and our pleasant impromptu visit ended.

I delight in connection. I am thankful for neighbors who have blown snow from my driveway, carried couches from my basement, rerouted a downspout, performed an early-morning-before-the-shower reconnection of my hot-water heater and followed me home from the grocery store to help me unload the bags.

I was happy to find the Better Boy tomato plants Neale desired and then savor their summer fruit. I love having ingredients Lisa has run out of and getting to enjoying the delicious results and good company at dinner later on.

"It's a beautiful day in this neighborhood," Mister Rogers said.

Kate Coleman writes a monthly Lifestyle column and covers the Maryland Symphony Orchestra for The Herald-Mail. She can be reached via e-mail at katec@herald-mail.com.

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