Growing up in Yerington, Nevada in the 1970s, I was a Neighbor Girl.
My next-oldest sibling is 5 years older and didn’t want to hang around with me, and there weren’t many children my age living nearby. My school friends lived out of town. So I was often on my own, walking or biking around the neighborhood. I knew all the dogs by name and often stopped for skritches and a chat — I particularly remember a golden-colored Great Dane named Johan, a total sweetheart that other kids were afraid of. I regularly visited my adult friends, too: the childless couple who lived next door, a pair of gentle alcoholics (although I did not realized that then); and my father’s boss’s wife, a wonderful, wacky school teacher.
Now I understand how utterly, utterly patient and kind these adults were. They put up with my endless chatter (my family nickname was Mighty Mouth), appeared interested in my ideas and problems, always seemed glad to see me, and very gently sent me on my way when a visit was inconvenient or I had simply been there long enough. I *belonged* in my neighborhood and, unlike my older siblings who had to move fairly often, I had a stable, safe, and reasonably idyllic childhood.*
Now I’m the friendly, slightly wacky Neighbor Lady and I’ve attracted my own pair of Neighbor Girls. Niomi is in 3rd grade and just moved into the house behind mine; I expect her family will be around for a while. Melody is in 1st grade and lives next door in a rental house, or possibly just visits — there seem to be multiple connected families living there or hanging out — and I can’t begin to predict how long she’ll be around.
Both Niomi and Melody offered to help me garden yesterday because when you’re a kid, work that is novel and not assigned to you by a parent is fun, right? Niomi came over first and planted sweetpea seeds around the 5-gallon tubs I was readying to hold tomatoes and peppers,** and helped me transplant two sweetpea vines a neighbor wanted to get rid of. Then she helped me move some large rocks in the front garden. During this, I learned a lot about her older brother and sister and about Hannah Montana and the Jonas Brothers. Melody came over when we were getting ready to move some small rocks from the back yard to make a path in the newest garden section in the front yard. Those girls worked hard putting rocks in the wheelbarrow and bringing it up front, while I planted shrubs. Niomi and Melody had never met before, and it was very sweet to see Niomi making sure that Melody felt included and was given tasks appropriate for her size.
And thus, the Neighbor Girl tradition lives on. And I’ve realized just how settled into this neighborhood I am, and how happy that makes me.
*it all went to hell in Junior High, of course, but I think it’s that way for pretty much everyone.
**I figured that keeping the plants above the ground would keep them safe from dogs and rabbits, especially considering that two years ago, I witnessed a rabbit eating the last little stump of my last tomato plant while, 6 feet away, Ricky was staring at a squirrel in the neighbor’s yard.