MY TURN: A neighbor who knew ins and outs of being neighborly

A former boss, who for years guided a chain of award-winning newspapers across Southeastern Michigan, was a keen observer of societal trends and how they impact our daily lives.

Particularly as it pertains to being neighborly.

Before the advent of cookie-cutter homes, residential neighborhoods across America were spiced with a variety of architectural styles, almost all of which featured some form of an inviting front porch.

"Those porches," he once told me, "were instrumental in bringing people together and encouraging a sense of neighborliness."

How so?

"In those days, when front porches were in fashion, neighbors would regularly see each other when they got home from work," he noted. "It was almost impossible not to see your neighbor if they were out on their front porch.

"Now," he said, "most everyone drives home, presses the garage door opener, drives into the garage, closes the garage door, enters their house, and most likely will not be seen again until they drive away to work the next day. It's sad."

Thankfully, of course, it wasn't always that way.

A porch served as a get-acquainted place with my first next-door neighbor, a gem of a woman who was enjoying retired life after decades of public service work. We met within minutes of moving into our very modest first home, which my father dubbed "mortgage manor."

The move was of the homespun variety, where family and friends with pickups were pressed into duty. Our new neighbor helped break the ice with a plate of fresh-baked cookies and a warm welcome that would thaw an Arctic winter.

A year later, she was tickled to welcome another "new neighbor," this time our first born, who would as soon as he could make tracks next door for the warmth of her friendship. It was a bond they shared many times, even as age and distance grew.

For someone in newspapering, I was hard-pressed not to notice my neighbor, although she was quite adept at skirting the public spotlight. She seemed ever-present at church and charitable events around town, taking special pride in assisting with local blood drives sponsored by the American Red Cross.

In addition, she was a great source of news tips for the local editor. She also was frank about what she liked and didn't like in her hometown paper.

For two decades, she was a fixture in the local schools, heading the food services program for the district. Her late husband was the longtime pastor of a cornerstone church in the community.

Her ties to the Red Cross were born out of tragedy, a winter night that her beloved son was killed in a car accident. His death and his life were topics she seemed more willing to share in the months leading up to her own passing.

She told of the pain of telling her two daughters that their brother remained in spirit only, of trying to reconcile the reality of a life cut short with her abiding religious faith.

She recalled the final months of her husband's life, and the strength and courage he displayed in the face of cancer's ravaging effects.

It was a dreaded disease that eventually would make her life miserable, although she kept remarkably good humor in the wake of repeated surgeries and radiation treatments.

"If this one doesn't work," she said of a new round of treatments, "then I guess I'm ready for 'Green Acres.'"

She smiled. We laughed. It cast the drive over to the hospital in an altogether different light, certainly one I'll remember as I cherish memories of a very special neighbor again and again.

Published: Fri, Dec 13, 2019