by H.O. Coffey
Neighbors! What a common word to mean so much. Men used to say it a lot, in the old days, when they met at the blacksmith shop or the corner grocery or general merchandise store. What a change! The blacksmith shop still exists in certain localities, but in most places it’s the service station and “neighbors” just don’t meet there. The corner grocery is no longer on the corner, but most generally in the block and interested only in getting you waited on and out of the way. The pot-bellied stove is just a memory. The box of sand for the “chewers” has also entered the realm of has-beens. There’s no room in the general store to “sit on the counter” and discuss crops and politics. Order prevails, too, in the arrangement of goods. The harness (I still like the smell of it) and nails are in a store room. The kerosene tank is hidden away. Brown sugar, if any, is in neat boxes instead of the barrel that was always a source of temptation when I was a kid. Crackers no longer come in big, wooden boxes, but in paper cartons. So much for this.
The paths through backyards from one house to another are now mostly barred by hedges or fences. The “gabfests” are via the telephone. The back fence camaraderie, gossip included, just “isn’t” anymore. The womenfolks have followed the general trend that is “away” from the old-time friendliness.
Neighbors! I feel the loss of the word and all that it conveys about as keenly as anyone. Living in the city, I’ve often shared the same block with families and never knew their names unless something unusual happened.
And now for a word I thoroughly detest – isolationism. I guess when it comes into prominence and practice that good old-fashioned neighborliness just had to fold up. But why, in heaven’s name, should we permit and encourage this new aggressor into the American way of life? A truly good neighbor is the salt of anybody’s earth – a living human thing of love, kindliness, hospitality without thought of return in kind.
Some day, perhaps, there will be a drift back to such associations – not as a deterrent to progress but as an essential part of it. So far, in this modern age of wealth, convenience, luxury, and stupendous progress, as I view it, there has not been found another way of living half so simple, half so hones, so pleasant, and so safe as in the days of neighborhoods, neighborliness, and neighbors.
What most of us crave is the isolation of isolationism and to be chunked squarely in the middle of “when you could borrow anything your neighbor had except his wife” – my defense of the simply, yet so meaningful word.