A fresh look at the neighbors

Published 7:47 pm Saturday, August 15, 2015

Recovering from surgery at home this week, my wife received a get-well card from a neighbor we’ve never met. Inside was a beautifully written note of encouragement, not just for Annette, but also for me, as our neighbor had learned about my wife’s recent emergency surgery through a column I had written for last Sunday’s paper.

I’m still not sure how our correspondent made the connection between what she saw in the newspaper and the Spears family that lives down the road and around the corner from her in Sleepy Lake.

Of course, my name appears in this paper every day, and my face “graces” this page once a week. I also drive a distinctive car with a license plate that pretty clearly evokes my job. But all those things aside, I still keep a pretty low profile, at least in my neighborhood, where, to be embarrassingly honest, I can’t dredge up a memory of the last time someone might have seen me outside doing yard work or washing my car.

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So the whole thing got me thinking about neighborhood dynamics.

Sleepy Lake — at least our part of it — is a place where folks wave at one another and call “Hello!” when they’re passing, but there aren’t a lot of obvious neighbor-to-neighbor interactions. I’m not ascribing the blame for that dynamic to anyone (aside from recognizing my own responsibility in the matter). It’s always — even when I was a kid — just felt like a place where folks mostly lived within their own non-intersecting orbits.

That kind of neighborhood might be the norm in 2015, but there are places where the vibe is different. A friend from church recently moved to Summer Creek Estates, the development off Kings Highway that’s finally gaining traction after years of stagnation. One of her neighbors works with my wife at Wanchese Fish Co., and the two families have become close. They describe driveway parties, movable feasts alternating among the homes of the mostly new residents of that subdivision.

That’s clearly a place where neighbors do more than just wave hello when passing. And in a city like Suffolk, there must be many other communities where the neighbors are similarly close.

Even as I write this, the guy who always wanted to live in a lighthouse on a private island subconsciously shudders at the thought of that kind of closeness. After all, there’s a reason I chose a quote about the Grinch — “As cuddly as a cactus, as charming as an eel” — for my Facebook profile.

Still, though, I find it oddly comforting and compelling at this point in my life to realize there are folks I don’t even know who are thinking good thoughts about me just down the road. I should probably keep my distance so they don’t change their minds.