antique red stepstools & hand-me-down lawn tools

As I pried off the unflattering plate rail from the top of our kitchen cabinets this week (don’t worry, Dad, I got it all off without breaking it, and I saved it for you), I found myself standing on an old, rickety, red, wood-and-metal combo stepstool. It’s somewhat uneven, since it’s missing one of its plastic foot things, but it works okay on the linoleum. Apart from its rickety charm and the fact that it collapses nicely into a small awkward space beside the cabinets that’s good for little else, I like this stepstool because our neighbors in Texas gave it to us.

Among many things.

When we bought our house in Texas, we met our neighbors pretty quickly. The very next day, in fact, our neighbor Pat left her business card while we were at church, and when I called to thank her for stopping by, she brought us over half of a pie. (She also told me she was very pleased to hear that we had been at church.)

We soon met an elderly couple who lived on the other side of our house, Mr. and Mrs. Friar. We never did see their name written down, and J always spelled it “Fryer” and I always spelled it “Friar,” so who knows. I’m using their real names because it adds charm to the story and you could never track them down even if you tried.

Mr. and Mrs. Friar were sweet neighbors seriously in need of someone to talk to. I will confess that there were times, in fact, that we drove around the block instead of pulling in our driveway if we saw Mr. Friar out pulling in his garbage can because we knew we didn’t have time for an hour repast of meandering conversation. (I said it was a confession: don’t judge.)

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The Joy of a Large Family & Being Year-Round Neighbors

Every 4th of July our neighborhood has a parade. It’s a small event, spearheaded by one family, that consists of maybe 40 people walking down the street behind a “Happy 4th of July!!!” banner, to the tune of “Stars and Stripes Forever,” playing on a boom box in one of the banner carriers’ hands. The parade takes about ten minutes, and then we settle in the neighbor’s lawn to eat red, white, and blue popsicles and chat.

Our four children, five years and under, love it. They have not been to a “real” parade before, so they are very easily impressed. And, really, they should be. This parade gets everyone in our block out of our houses and into conversation… even us, who are not nearly as neighborly as we should be.

The parade always gets me thinking about community and neighborhoods and my failings with regards to both. But this year I had a conversation that drove this home for me in a new way.

With four pre-school aged children, it’s rare that I leave the house without receiving at least one comment from someone about our family size. The comments are almost always some version of, “My, you sure have your hands full, don’t you?” or “You must be very busy!” I nod, smile, move on, have never thought much about these comments, and have certainly come to expect them. But this year I got a new one: “You have four children? You poor, poor woman!”

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The Neighbor Challenge

Now that I’m a blogger about community, I am much more aware of my community-related experiences – or sometimes lack thereof. I’ve combed through all areas of my life, looking for stories to share or ways to enhance my everyday routine to make it more community-oriented.

It’s been a bit of a struggle!

After reading Rebecca’s post a few weeks ago, I was reminded of a similar experience and a call to action.

My husband and I have been getting quotes (lots of quotes) to have our paver patio redone. Over the summer, we’ve met with no less than ten landscapers! Most have been very nice and informative, some have been more like used car salesmen.

One of the used car salesman-type was not-so-subtly listing all the other jobs he did in the neighborhood and mentioned he did a raised bed for our neighbors two doors down. “What are their names?” he asked. I stared at him blankly. I have no idea.

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What we really should do…

When we first moved into our home about eight years ago, there was a very petite, very elderly-looking woman who walked up and down the street every morning. She looked so strong and hardy for her obvious advanced age. I wanted to take my kids, ooch over, and flag her down to chat, but always just waved shyly and said “good morning.” The reason I was so hesitant? Plain and simple: I had no idea what to say to her.

Things that were readily apparent…..she lived alone, she had lived a long, long life, she seemed friendly enough, should have made it easy to strike up a conversation. Were you married once? Has your husband passed away? How long have you lived here? But where to start? What to say? What if I offended her? What if she couldn’t understand me well and it was painfully awkward.

Well one day, I did it.

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