N is for neighbors...
Growing up out in the sticks, we knew our neighbors. Families knew families for generations, and neighbors, as corny as it sounds, helped each other. It lightened the load for everyone involved.
Now, I don't mean that people took advantage, but I will say, we were good neighbors to know because we came equipped with a full out work-crew--what with eight kids n'all. Heck, we could field two baseball teams all by ourselves when it came time for a pick up game in front of the barn. Okay, the teams were small, but the area was small too. :-) I digress.
It all sounds so cliche, but it's all true. If we walked to a neighbor's house, we knew every person who passed by in a car, and many stopped to see if we needed a ride somewhere.
We'd help neighbors put in hay. And the some of them helped back. I guess it was tempting for some of them to just figure that Louie had eight kids--he had it covered. :-)
The neighborhood wasn't a street we lived on, or a city block. It went for miles. And we didn't know just the people: we had half an idea bout the animals that lived in our neighborhood. We knew shortcuts cross-country to other farms. And we knew who was genuinely happy to see us, and had a swing or a bench and would sit down and talk to us. Even when we were little kids.
My favorite neighbor to visit was Mary Frazak. From the time before I was even in school, we knew if we walked halfway up our lane, then cut across a meadow we called the flats, cross the creek, climb onto a large rock, we could carefully step over the electric pasture fence running between our properties. Then we walked up through the "cattle run" --exiting at her barn. We'd stop and pump a drink from the well, catching it in our hands to drink. Then on to Mary's house.
She was a worker, from sun up till sundown, barn, garden, fields. A tough woman, child of Polish immigrants. And I know her stories. I have them stored in my heart, because when she told them they were beautiful and bittersweet--even to a child.
It was a wonderful direction to head to when we had free time. And Mary never failed to stop what she was doing and invite us to sit down with her and talk. I can still see the pidgeons flying from her barn roof toward the field. We'd marvel at the variety of colors. And she had this great old grape arbor, and plum trees and a strawberry patch.
When we headed home, the summer evening was falling on our corner of heaven on earth. A blue mist crept across the hay fields, slipping down toward the valley, toward home, much like us. We beat feet back through the cattle run, wanting to get over the worst of the steep terrain before dark--not to mention to avoid fresh cow patties and thistles-- in our bare feet.. Lightning bugs flashed in the dimming twilight when we stepped over the fence, and the day birds had been replaced by low flying bats.
Looking back, I see a small life's lesson. She was my favorite neighbor because she took the time to acknowledge us, even when we were little kids. And that was in a day when children were to seen but not heard. And she always stopped what she was doing when "company" came.
I tried not to be a stranger to her when the years piled up behind her. She was a delight to visit even into her nineties. I wish we all aspired to be the kind of neighbor that Mary was.
Do you know your neighbors?