The Universal Notebook: Good neighbors

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As we head into a new year, there seems be a growing realization that this country has not profited from the divisive partisanship of left and right, progressive and conservative, Democrat and Republican. It has been heartening to see the GOP leadership distancing itself from the hard right extremists in the do-nothing Congress.

Here on my street, we have never had this problem.

Though I am sure my neighbors hold a wide range of social, political and religious views, we all get along just fine. We have lived on the street for 31 years now and I can’t think of a single problem we have ever had with a neighbor. And that’s saying something in this day and age of me-my-mine.

My generation has elevated NIMBYism (Not In My Back Yard) to such a fine art that it’s now called BANANAism (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything). It seems as though, in other places, even other parts of town, someone always has a beef about something someone else wants to do. Even when what is being proposed is a vast improvement over what previously existed.

I find it strange, for example, that anyone who ever tried to merge into traffic from the old Interstate 295 on-ramp in Yarmouth would have any second thoughts about the much safer on-ramp redesign or the new park-and-ride lot that should encourage carpooling if people would give it chance. But there seem to be all kinds of environmental and transportation agendas at work critical of that ramp and parking lot.

But the street where I live is blessedly free of single-issue self-interest. Most of the folks who live here are solid, middle-class citizens who work hard at making a living and raising a family. They don’t have time for picayune nonsense. We might vote differently, but that doesn’t stop us from being sociable, stopping to chat in the street while walking dogs and kids around the block, helping one another out as needed.

I think of Heather and Dan, our next-door neighbors. They might easily have had an issue when Carolyn and I wanted to cut down a few trees along the property line (at least one of which was clearly on their land) to get some sun onto our garden. But instead of asserting their private property rights and demanding a survey, Heather and Dan helped us cut brush and even allowed the arborist’s equipment to access the trees from their driveway. It’s great to have good neighbors.

And it’s like that all around the block. This fall I saw Gene up the street helping Don pave his driveway. Now I see Don snowblowing Gene’s driveway. Julie, the block’s master gardener, is always working in other people’s yards. Meg and Peter take care of our dog Rudy when we go away overnight, and we do the same for their dog Simon. Bob and Betsy are always sharing berries with us, so Carolyn and Tess went over after the last snowstorm and shoveled them out. Later that day I saw Scott shoveling out the fire hydrant that serves our end of the street.

This Christmas, Carolyn and did our best to shop local, so she went next door and ordered herbal cosmetics from Lindsay. (I did my part by purchasing growlers of ale from a brewery owned by friends of daughter Nora.)

Half the dog owners on the street cut through Pat’s side yard to take their dogs out into the woods. Until the Downeaster made walking along the train tracks too dangerous, everyone on the street used to cut through the little woods between our house and Lindsay and Charley’s. No one minded. There have even been a few block parties, though I confess I only made one of them. And this winter, about a dozen of my neighbors got together to broker a deal on buying heating oil.

There’s a lot to be said for living among reasonable people. In the new year, we should all be so lucky.

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Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Yarmouth. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.