The neighbors

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We didn’t know our neighbors had a kid the first six months we lived here in Missoula. Our middle son kept telling us they had a kid who was the same age. We thought he was talking about his invisible friend.

Then one day we saw him. A portly child walking along the fence. We only noticed him briefly before his parents whisked him inside. We had to apologize to our son for not believing him.

We are no longer tribal. We live close by others without knowing the first thing about them. My wife and I like to go over to our neighbors’ houses unannounced, often with a bottle of wine or maybe a loaf of bread in hand. It was this way when we lived in Hawaii.

Northern climates are different. I feel like many people are isolationists living 10-feet away from their neighbors and trying to ignore that fact.

We didn’t always have to force the issue though. Within a few weeks of moving to Missoula, we met some of our favorite people in this town. They lived in the cute corner house with the nice landscaping. They had a daughter a little younger than our middle son, and a son the same age as our daughter.

They’d say hi, and we’d say hi, and pretty soon we’d talk or bring a bottle of wine over. We’d talk at school functions and on Saturdays after mowing the lawn. They let us borrow their job stroller, and we let them borrow our child bicycle seat.

I’ll never forget the first Christmas season in Missoula. Chris and Valerie, who are both talented pianists, invited us for an evening of Christmas carols with other faculty from the University of Montana school of music. Voice teachers and other musicians filled the room, including the symphony director. Beautiful music and new friendships characterized that night. In the years to come, we would gather at their place to play Guitar Hero with the piano professor, the voice professor and the director of the Missoula symphony. It was surreal fake playing music with three musical geniuses, but they were gracious, and we laughed and jammed until the early hours of the morning.

Chris and I would mountain bike together and catch the latest guy movies with another friend, Creighton. We’d play out what-if scenarios and laugh almost until we cried. At least I did.

As neighbors go, you could not ask for more. As friends go, you won’t find better.

Then we moved, and I didn’t see Chris and Val as often. We popped in from time to time leaving off as if we just saw each other the night before.

After a year in the new house, I couldn’t describe the lady across the street to you. I’ve only seen her once or twice. The neighbors to either side of us are very nice. She works nights, so we say hi once-in-a-while. He is a U.S. Marine, and we have a beer together every so often and talk about house projects.

But our backdoor neighbors have become like best friends. Walking over unannounced and sitting on our front porches sipping drinks or playing guitars or smoking cigars are just a few of the things I consider bounty from our friendship.

They are the reason we bought a house in this neighborhood. Mike was a co worker whom I didn’t know well, but I’d heard through work that he bought a house in a new neighborhood near where we’d both once lived.

As our house was being built, we’d hang out with Mike and Michelle at their place. Theirs having been built several months before ours. We’d dream together of backyard barbecues in summer and our kids playing together across the alley.

Soon summer rolled around, and I’d amble over to Mike’s place to get a rake or a broom or just shoot the breeze. It’s the idealistic kind of neighbors you see in the movies.

But it’s something much more than that too. Mike and Michelle are there in the difficult times. They are friends beyond the common. When we needed someone to take our daughter for the weekend so we could get out of town, Mike never even flinched. When we needed advice, they gave it unselfishly, and when we get together, there is an easiness that is not easily found. Conversation is smooth and the laughter is contagious.

I remember growing up having difficult neighbors. People who just liked to make life hard on my dad. There was no good reason for it, just a plethora of cantankerous people. I always hoped for a good neighbor some day. When we first moved to Missoula, I thought I was going to end up with the same cantankerous people. What I found are neighbors I’d do anything to take with me. People of such quality that they make you want to be more like them.

Good neighbors are hard to find. You can’t always pick them. But if you get lucky enough to have good friends to live next to, you have found the best you can expect in life.

Mike and Michelle and Chris and Val, you are some of our favorite people in the world. We feel privileged to have been able to call you neighbors and friends.


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