The "American Dream" used to include the image of neighborhoods, where everyone knew each other, there were children playing in the streets all summer long, as families had barbecues together. It included the nearly-cliche concept of going next door to "borrow a cup of sugar."
When I was very young, in Georgia, I have memories of such a thing. One neighborhood I lived in had an alley that ran down the middle and all the kids played together there. We knew everyone on the street.
We moved away from that neighborhood when I was 5. I have never experienced such a thing since.
Most neighborhoods I've lived in, I've known a few people. The closest I came to that same sort of feeling happened twice.
Once was where I lived for a few years about a block from the downtown area of a small town. I knew almost everyone within a couple of blocks- but my parents and sisters didn't. I knew them because I spent a lot of time walking around the block. A lot.
The other time was when I was about 21. We lived in an apartment in an old house, and I because friends with the family that lived on the other side of the downstairs. I really did borrow a cup of sugar once, and used to go over there and hang out a lot. It was my first "real neighbor" since I was a young child. After a few months, they moved, then we moved, and that was the end of that.
Since then, I've lived in 6 places, and only one of those places for longer than a year.
When we moved into the house where we live now, I had high hopes of getting to know the neighbors. They even welcomed us by bringing over a basket of homemade goodies.
We live in a very small "town" with a population of around 3000. It isn't the population that makes it so small here, it's that there isn't really a town, at all. No stoplights, no businesses to speak of other than a few in people's homes. The only actual business we have is a bar/restaurant that is on the extreme edge of the town, literally a few feet from the town line, and it associates itself more with the larger town next door than here. We have no school, no gas station. No real community gathering place. Sad, in some ways, but if you're looking to be left alone, it's fairly ideal.
Our house is in a small group of houses. There are four on our side of the road, and three on the other. You might think it would make a nice little neighborhood, but not so much. Not for us, anyway.
When we moved here, it was like this:
The house to our East had an elderly couple who were nice enough, but in poor health, so they weren't outside much. One died not long after we moved here, and the other moved away. The person who bought the house a couple of years later is a single woman who is a violin teacher, who has never really chosen to be part of the community out here, instead maintaining her connections with the town where she teaches.
The house to our West had a young family with two kids, near in age to my own, but the difference in parenting couldn't have been greater. The kids were not allowed to go barefoot, and had a sandbox that they were only allowed to play with from outside the box, not being allowed to actually get in the sand. This family called child protective services on us once because my 2 and 5 year old were playing naked in our back yard in 90 degree temperatures. Concern about the kids? Not so much. The Mom "didn't want to have to see that." They "threatened" to put up a fence. We wished they would.
The next house over from them had a home daycare, where we overheard the woman yelling at the kids day in and day out.
Across the road was another young family, also with two kids, but also with an extremely different parenting and lifestyle. The Dad mows the lawn every day most of the year. Is he obsessed with short grass? Or is it so he can be out there watching all his neighbors? Turns out, he works at the same company as my brother, and would give him "reports" of what he saw. Peachy.
One of the other two houses has had a high turnover, being one of the few rental homes in town. There were some people we were sort of friendly with for a year or so, but they're gone. I've seen the most recent people one or twice, but that's all. The last house in the neighborhood is an elderly woman I've never even met.
The family next door (shoes, no sand) moved away a few years back, for which we were grateful. We run into them around town sometimes, and are on MUCH better terms with them now that we don't live next door. A young couple moved into that house, and while they lived there, had two children, but they were not very social, and although we were certainly friendly enough, when they suddenly sold the house and moved away, we had no idea why.
Why am I mentioning all this?
Just a couple of days ago, I had an experience that has me somewhat hopeful.
We have a new neighbor in that house, one who made the effort to introduce herself to me.
And I like her. Quite a lot.
She has more in common with me and my chosen lifestyle than anyone else who has ever lived in this neighborhood. Maybe more than most people in the whole town. We aren't exactly living the typical American rural lifestyle.
I have a feeling she may became an actual friend. The kind I can talk to. Hang out with. Share things with.
It's kind of exciting.