Remember when a U-Haul unloading in a driveway meant a plate of cookies from the family next door? Remember when the lady across the street called you at work to let you know you left your garage door open? Or, here’s a good one. Remember when you called the people on your street by names other than “the lady three doors down”? Up until a little more than a year ago, I couldn’t, either.
My fiance and I realized just how good it is to know your neighbors, though, when our house was burglarized.
The thieves busted through a window and mangled our wooden shutters in the process. They used our beige couch as a stepping stool for their dirty sneakers. They opened every door and emptied every drawer to nab every electronic device and sentimental piece of jewelry a hard-working couple owned. And then they walked out of our front door carrying a 42-inch plasma TV.
I let that last detail marinate in my imagination a little too long. Just picturing a couple of thugs going unnoticed as they breezed across our front yard with chords dangling from 42-inches of my fiance’s pride and joy killed me. It made me wonder if anyone would have noticed a stranger taking our pet elephant for a ride that morning.
But in order to blame my neighbors, I’d have to introduce myself first. At least that’s what the cops suggested after they took their report and promised to call us back. They wanted us to ask if anyone on our street witnessed suspicious people, cars or behavior. We didn’t tell the police that pawning their jobs off on us in itself was suspicious, but as soon as we get that call back we will.
In between talks with our insurance company, we did as the cops advised and started the ol’ neighborhood meet and greet. After living there almost two years it felt wrong, like asking someone’s name while buttoning up your blouse. But that proved the least of our worries.
One of the first doorbells we rang spurred loud barking – from more than just the dogs that lived there. We heard the locks and the knob turn, but an iron screen door and blinding sunlight blocked our view of the woman inside. She could see us on her front porch, but we couldn’t see her.
Neighbor: Who is it?!
Me: Uh, your neighbors three doors down.
Me: We live down the street.
Neighbor: I don’t know who you are, but I want you to know I have a gun! And I’m holding it right now!
Me: OK. … (Voice shaking) Why?
Still unable to see her, the woman warned us that she knew someone robbed one of her neighbors that day and she wouldn’t be next.
A couple of minutes later, we sat on her couch, petting two white fluffy dogs while Fox News blasted through her living room. She explained the precautions a widow her age has to take, the guns her late military-serving husband left behind and the panic she feels when she hears the doorbell but hasn’t invited anyone over. We listened intently, without a gun pointed at us.
All that was missing was a pot of coffee, the chat went so well. She even dropped a little neighborhood gossip in for good Wisteria Lane measure.
Before leaving, we exchanged names and numbers, agreeing that “community” could make us all feel a little safer.
It took 15 minutes and a Smith & Wesson encounter to get me channeling Mr. Rogers. Before sundown, we had similar powwows with the woman across the street, the teachers a few doors away and the friendly family kitty-cornered from our house.
The next day, I moseyed across the street to check the mail. A flier posted to the boxes informed residents that a house on the street was broken into the day before. Bold letters and exclamation points urged neighbors to “watch out for each other.”
It got me feeling all warm and neighborly. I pictured myself delivering fruitcakes door to door in December, organizing block parties in May and borrowing cups of sugar just for the hell of it.
Of course, I have yet to do any of those things but considering I once thought waving to neighbors was the equivalent of loaning out the lawnmower, I’d say I’ve come a long way.
The burglary sure sucked, but at least something positive came out of it. I remember that every time our snowbird neighbors next door bring us tasty treats from Canada or the thoughtful neighbor across the street calls to tell us about a broken water pipe. It especially rings true, though, when “the lady three doors down” simply becomes Judy.
Contact columnist Xazmin Garza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0477. Follow her on Twitter at @startswithanx.