When neighbors mattered

Webster’s dictionary defines a neighbor as a person who lives close to another. Everyone has a neighbor (s) no matter if he or she lives in a high-rise apartment, subdivision or remote rural area. How they identify with one another is another matter.

Today, it’s not unusual for neighbors to be strangers to one another. Why is that? Perhaps it’s because of our fast-paced lifestyle. Most of the homes on any given street in town are vacant from sunup to sundown with the exception of those that have household pets. Both parents are at work and their children are in school. A wave of the hand to a neighbor in going and coming may be the only visible sign of neighborliness one sees for days on end.

A neighbor was viewed much differently, regardless of the distance from one another, when I was a kid growing up on a farm in East Central Alabama.

One of our neighbors, an elderly man and his invalid wife, moved into our community in 1949 after spending a big part of their lives raising a family in the eastern foothills of Horseblock Mountain. Their early 1900s lifestyle and friendly demeanor made a lasting impression on our family.

Riley Spears popped up unrepentantly on the dirt road in front of our house on a bitter cold winter day driving a two-horse wagon pulled by a team of oxen. Piled high on the wagon bed were handmade farm implements never before seen by my brothers and me.  With curiosity at a fever pitch, we stood by and watched him creep down the road and turn off in a driveway that led to a vacant farmhouse, which was visible from our front yard.

We soon learned that the adjoining farm had been purchased for the couple by two of their sons who served overseas in the U.S. Army during World War II.

In the following months, our families developed a close friendship. We would visit on Saturday nights, take along our battery-powered radio and listen to the Grand Ole Opera together. Afterwards, they would share stories about the difficulty they had eking out a living for their family during the Great Depression.

Anytime we saw the mail carrier stop at the Spears’ mailbox. We could expect to see him walking to our house for a visit with our mother. Neither he nor his wife could read or write; therefore, our mother served as a surrogate parent. She would read the card or letter and write a response for him if one was needed.

Being a good neighbor still matters even though its easy to lose sight of the value in face of all the clutter of day-to-day living. 

Clif Knight is a staff writer emeritus for the Hartselle Enquirer.

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