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Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Who’s Your Neighbor?

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Mike Ruby
Mike Ruby
A Muscatine resident for over forty years, Mike Ruby had careers both as a teacher at Muscatine High school and as a writer for nonprofit companies. Now retired, Ruby continues to cultivate his love for writing by contributing monthly Ruby's Reflections to Discover Muscatine newspaper.

A few months ago, I read a disturbing fact; only 31% of Americans know their neighbors. How sad. Even though I left my hometown over 50 years ago, I can still name at least a dozen families, even their pets, who lived within two blocks of our house. If we saw them in the grocery store, on Main Street, or working in the yard, we’d greet each other and oftentimes pause for a short chat.

Many years ago, Jo Anne and I visited friends in northern California. They lived in an upscale neighborhood with manicured lawns, security alarms and cameras, swimming pools, and expensive cars. Most yards had an eight-foot-high wooden privacy fence, clearly defining the property lines, implying the message, “keep out”!

One evening, I asked our friends about their neighbors who lived on the other side of the high fence. They said they met them about three years ago when they first moved into the neighborhood, and that’s the one and only time they’ve had contact, even though the houses were only 50 feet apart! Evidently, that was the norm for their neighborhood.

Recalling the different neighborhoods we’ve lived in over the last 50 years, I remember the majority of the residents. Why? Because we communicated! We took care of each other’s mail and newspapers when not home, shared ideas of how to get rid of pesky moles, grieved together when family members or pets died, and enjoyed sharing excess garden produce with each other. It’s not necessary to become bosom buddies, and it’s certainly not appropriate to be a nosey neighbor, but I can’t imagine living in a neighborhood where residents have no contact with each other.

In 1971, while we lived in Kansas, a young couple rented the small house next door to us. They didn’t know anyone in town, and we made an effort to welcome them to the neighborhood. They were about our age, and we soon learned we had a lot in common. We moved to Iowa a few years later but have remained good friends. During the last few years, we’ve taken several trips abroad with them, and our friendship grows deeper as the years pass. Little did we expect that a lifelong friendship would result from just a simple hello and smile, trying to be a pleasant neighbor.

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