I grew up seeing pictures of my mom and her family always hanging out on their front porch. What a wonderful place to be, in your home and able to see your neighbors and your neighborhood. When my husband and I were looking for homes, both of us really wanted a front porch. We quickly came to realize very few modern homes are made with front porches. Instead, we have lavish back yards with decks, pools, gardens and play area, which is great, but not the same.
I remember visiting my great aunt Julia who used to live off of Calhoun Street in Dearborn, MI. She would attend Mass every single morning at St. Alphonsus Catholic Church across the street. After attending Mass and weather permitting, she would have breakfast on her porch. She would go back inside her house to do dishes and come back to sit with coffee and tea. Then she would have lunch on her front porch. The front porch was much like a second living room. This second living room didn't have a television, it had real life. She knew all of her neighbors, she knew the children who attended the school across the street and she spoke on a daily basis with everyone. Many of the people around the neighborhood would affectionately call her, "The Mayor of Dearborn," because she knew everyone. On one visit, she invited us to attend a talent show at the school across the street. Although she had no children of her own in the talent show, a few kids from the school who passed by her house every day had invited her to come see their performance. I remember her introducing me to so many kids my age and younger, as well as all of their parents. It was a whirlwind of people for me, for her, just her circle of friends.
My aunt Julia is no longer with us, but I like to think we keep her spirit alive as much as possible by trying to cultivate relationships with our neighbors. It isn't easy. We don't have front porches anymore, everyone hides out back (if we can even get anyone out and away from television or other mobile devices at all). Like I said, I would like to think I help to keep the spirit of neighborhood friendliness alive, but I have to admit, I have a lot of work to do.
It will be a while until I can work on being more neighborly because I just had foot surgery and have been relegated to my bed for the next few of weeks, keeping my leg up and iced. But I have one neighbor, who is an inspiration, much like my great aunt Julia. She just left my bedside to run home to take care of her kiddos for lunch, but my neighbor came by this morning with Yahtzee to keep me company. The day after surgery I was craving a Sprite and she was sweet enough to swing by and bring one to me. We have had days where it has iced and no one could get out the neighborhood, and she has had the whole cul de sac over for dinner. My husband hit a gas line while digging and without a second thought she invited us over for dinner while the gas company worked on fixing the line. She has thought about my family on Veteran's Day and brought over a thank you for your service gift. If I enumerated all the nice things I have seen her do for our family and our neighbors, I would end up writing a mini novel. The most important thing I think she has given our neighborhood and my family is that wonderful return to a time where people used to build front porches and know their neighbors. She has helped to create a community where we can feel safe letting our kids ride bikes in front of our house. She has helped to create a welcoming atmosphere where the kids play with each other and run from house to house laughing. We may not have a front porch, but my neighbor has broken through that imaginary wall we all put up and created not just a cul de sac, but a real neighborhood.
My neighbor is an inspiration, like my Aunt Julia. In this blog, I hope these two people help to inspire you as much as they have inspired me to help cultivate those friendships with people next door and create a place where your kiddos can have contact with other kids instead of their televisions and video games. Get out there and make friends. Borrow a cup of sugar and bring back a pie. Drop a hand written note or just knock on the door and say hi. There is a wonderful world out there for you and your kids, one away from the television, away from computers, one that can just let you enjoy and become part of something bigger than just your backyard.
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