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A “Country” Girl’s Perspective on Neighborhoods

Stephanie Koehler
Stephanie Koehler

I have never been one for neighborhood block parties or weekly progressive dinners.  Perhaps because I like my privacy and want to avoid the over-interested neighborly “pop-in”.  Perhaps I don’t want people to be able to hear my dinner conversation through an open window.  Perhaps it’s just that I’ve spent the majority of my life in the “country”.

Well, I should clarify. I have enough family in Oklahoma, Wyoming and Montana to know that my version of rural isn’t exactly “the sticks”. When I say “country” – it was more what we Roanokers call “the county”.

I grew up in Ithaca, New York.  (In case you are wondering…it’s 5+ hours northwest of NYC. Lots of state parks – not much concrete and not a high rise in sight.)  Furthermore, when I say “in” Ithaca…I really mean it was the last mailbox in the Ithaca school district – literally.  Giving directions to my house was always a bit amusing:

“You know where the hospital is?”  Yes, they’d say.  “Well, it’s way past that.”

“Do you know where the Honda motor cross store is?”  Yes, they’d say.

“Well, you keep on going.” I think you get the picture….

Needless to say, nobody’s parents offered to take me home from school after cheerleading.

Well, since moving to southwest Virginia and for the first time in my life, I live in a bonafide neighborhood – complete with sidewalks and front porches – and I have come to love it.

I think the first chink in my “privacy armor” came when my neighbor Marjorie made us a pecan pie.  I can’t recall the reason – I just know it was delicious and thoughtful.  Then there is my “over the fence” neighbor, Sam.  Aside from helping me keep my hydrangea beautiful, he helps me from ending up with 40 lb. zucchinis by reminding me to pick them.  There is Carol who happily lets the dogs out when we find ourselves at the lake for too long.  Then there is the Jones.  We should all be so lucky as to keep up with these “Jones”.  They’ve helped us find a nanny for the kids and the best vet any dog – with a propensity for eating toxic things — could ask for (Big Lick Veterinary Clinic). They even let me know when a package has been on my front door step for days on end.

I love the fact that I know the faces of neighborhood kids and dogs.  I love the idea that neighborhood restaurants know me by name and I can order “the usual” from the bar.  I like that I always know at least one person at the table next to me.  Let’s face it; Cheers knew exactly what makes people tick.  We all like to go to a place where “everybody knows your name”.

I could go on and on for blocks.  Literally.  I can’t think of one street within a mile where there isn’t a person I’d call friend – even the kind who has an open invitation to “pop in”.

So, what’s my point?

I believe my point is simply that community is a good thing and neighborhoods are a great way to start.  Whether it’s a local, regional or global community – we all need each other on some level and function much better if we recognize it.  So, if it’s an official block party – or just a bunch of neighbors watching 4th of July fireworks from the middle of the street — perhaps if we all treated each other like the neighbor who makes a casserole when we are sick or drops by with a bottle of wine when we are sad – the world would be a little less angry.

By Stephanie Koehler
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