I’m a city gal, born and bred, and proud of it. While I have lived in a private home, I have mostly lived in tenement buildings, so I have had my fair share of neighbors over the decades. I have no idea what television show or movie I initially got it from in my impressionable youth, but I personally like the old-fashioned notion of welcoming new neighbors. Imagine my disillusionment the first time, new neighbors moved next door to our apartment and my mother did not so much as say “Boo!” in greeting in that first week. Luckily for me, by then I was learning just enough of the ways world to understand my mother was anti-social for her reasons and had enough sense to not openly question her about it. I simply thought it was just something with my mother and made friends with the new little girl next door on my own.
A few years later, when the time came for my family to move, our new neighbors had even less to say to us as we moved in. Not even the ones who shared the same floor. I was in my early teens by then and had learned the innate sense of mistrust bred into many inner-city neighborhoods. You moved where you could afford and where you could afford was rarely someplace you’d be comfortable letting people you do not know into your home. And other than the ConEd man (the person who came to read your utilities meter each month, which back then was always a male), anyone knocking on your door uninvited was thought of as a potential scout secretly casing your place to rob it later. Thus, greeting new neighbors was a suburban thing done only by whites, it just was not something we (inner city blacks folks) did.
And to be honest, there was much truth to that. It was the middle of the crack infested 80’s in The Bronx when we moved. Back then, any of your neighbors could either be friend or foe. We had a dog named Smokey; she was one evil bitch and I mean that in the nicest way. The neighbors on my floor could enter and exit their respective apartments without a peep from her because she understood the concept of neighbors. However, anyone else in the building was treated to anything from her low growl to full-out barrage of bark and we lived on the first floor of a five-story tenement with five apartment on each floor. If you did not live within the walls of our apartment you were the enemy and she let you know it. So, yes that was a whole lot of barking. The kids in my building would knock on the door and run just to set her off. When we had company we had to lock her in my room, because you were not getting in otherwise. Though other neighbors were periodically robbed, it never touched us because of Smokey. I walked her twice a day, everyone saw her size. No one was messing with us while we had her and we had Smoky from when I was about six, and she was already full-grown and evil then, until I was eighteen when she got sick and died. It took less than three months for people to figure out she was gone before we were robbed the first time. We were robbed twice more within a year of her death. Eventually, my father booby-trapped the place in such a way that on the last attempt, we eventually heard from the street that the would be robbers were seriously hurt, as in needed to go to a hospital for stitches, hurt. Since they were not able to steal anything, nor admit how they truly sustained their injuries, the word got around, because we were never robbed again. That in a nutshell said nearly everything about our neighbors and neighborhood.
Even with all of that, I still remember thinking to my self that when I had a home I would welcome new neighbors, at least the ones right next door to me, because it just seemed a nice thing to do. It took over another decade before I could test that theory. We moved into a semi-detached home in spring of ’99. No, no one greeted us, when we moved in, but holding our own wedding in our new backyard a week later apparently drew attention. Neighbors from doors down the block greeted me in the street for several days afterward. “You’re the girl who got married in your back yard last week right?” (Never mind that I was in my mid-30’s by then.) Eventually, my neighbor next door moved out and after a couple of months a new family moved in. I was determined I would be the exception to that rule and chose to welcome them.
And, no, I did not show up bearing pies. Hello? City gal? Let’s not get crazy. Besides my pie baking was restricted to holidays only, and you had to be proven worthy for me to go through the effort of making extras. However, I did knock on their door the next day, introduced myself, spoke of my family, our dog and offered them take-out menus for the better delivery places in the area. Not surprisingly she looked at me as though I were crazy, because who does that in the City right?! I remember I made a point of saying I did not want to come in when she grudgingly offered because I knew they were not anywhere near ready for entertaining anyone, that I was just saying hi and that our door was open. While we never became good friends, eventually, we did become good enough neighbors in the traditional sense. Open invitations to each other’s barbecues, borrowing tools and cups of sugar, picking up mail when the other was on vacation etc. That was more than good enough.
I only had the opportunity to be a one-woman welcome committee twice more while I lived there, and I could tell it was a genuinely welcome surprise each time. I’d like to hope that once we moved, my now erstwhile neighbors greeted it forward to the family that moved in after us, though the truth is I sincerely doubt it and I still really don’t understand why not. The neighbor branch is either accepted or not and the potential for a neighborly relationship, if not necessarily a true friendship, develops from there or not. Still, even if you do not become the best of friends, I’ve learned it rarely hurts to at least nod one’s head and say “Hi” now and again. Because like the lottery – unless you don’t play – you never know.
Saw a commercial where a woman (why is it almost always the woman any way?), greeted a new neighbor with a pie. It reminded me of the few times I’ve had the pleasure of being the greeter.
Come see how others welcome this 9th day of the challenge:
We have lived in our small town for almost 12 years. In that time, we have been in an apartment and a house. In our apartment, although we had several neighbors, I never met one for the entire year we lived there. In our house, we had one neighbor welcome us right away. They were the kind of neighbors who helped snow blow the driveway after a big storm, who loaned us a lawnmower when ours was broken down. The kind of neighbors we always stopped to talk to and check in on, as they were an elderly couple. Our other neighbors we see a few times a year and each and every time we see them, for all eleven years, we get the same greeting from the woman. “Hi, I’m Katie. I live next door!” Just the same way she did on the very first meeting. And yep! I’m still Robin and I still remember your name! 🙂 It gives me a good laugh every time.
Thanks for this memory piece. A couple of years ago I moved to a new neighborhood in our town. In my old neighborhood, if I left the newspaper out on the curb it would be gone within minutes. In this new one, if I leave the newspaper out there, the neighbors put it on my front porch. They come offering fruit from their trees and stand in the street and talk. When I moved in, several people came and introduced themselves. It is interesting how different things can be from one side of town to another. Thanks for sharing this post. Your experience is interesting, and I think you’re brave to be the neighbor that comes to say hello.
I remember moving from the country where our neighbors lived a bit of distance…to the city. My mother waited all day for the neighbors to come welcome us. No one did. She was appalled and called this city the unfriendliest city in the country. It took about a year for us to get to know the neighbors and count many of them as friends. My mother took it upon herself to introduce herself to the neighbors by taking them some sort of food…probably cookies or banana bread…as she was not know for her cooking. So…I am not sure where the ‘welcome your neighbor’ thing is. I know when I moved once there was actually a woman who stopped by as part of the ‘welcome wagon’….and I had thought that was a long forgotten thing. As it is, we know our neighbors…a bit…not best friends…but similar to what you had…and for now…that is good. Thanks for the interesting post.
This made me think of when my wife and I moved from the first house we owned. We lived on a relatively quiet street. We knew the neighbors to see them and that was about it. On the day we moved our neighbor from three houses down came to say good-bye and that she would miss us because we were such good neighbors. What am I missing? We never really talked. Got an occasional wave when passing, but we will be missed. Go figure.
I want to be an exception too. I want to have a new family move in next, door, welcome them to the neighborhood, and give whatever helpful tips that I can. I don’t think its very possible to do in a building, but, like you said, you’ll never know until you try 🙂
I really enjoyed reading this piece. I grew up in a small town in the South where people drop in unannounced and I could not wait to move to the city and get away from that! Now, older and wiser, I miss it. Your piece provided an interesting perspective on the whole “friendly neighbors” thing. Thanks for that.