Monday, April 1, 2013

In Praise Of The 'Hood

My neighbors sent me home with eggs from their chickens
and homemade pickles from last year's harvest 
If I haven’t said it before in this space, then let me say it right now, long and loudly: I have fabulous neighborsI love them all, and judging from the research I did for this post, finding oneself plunked down in the vicinity of love-worthy neighbors, truly a roll of the dice when buying a home in an unknown community, is not nearly as common as I would have expected. I was amazed at the animosity woven into literature and articles about neighbors, both having them and being one.

When I moved into my suburban northwest Baltimore County community twelve years ago, I was not only new to Maryland, I was new to the entire east coast. Back then, when I flew to a different state practically every day of the work week to meet clients at the behest of my longtime employer, my only criteria for a domicile’s location was that it be near a major airport (Baltimore-Washington International is only twenty minutes away). I did have some personal "wants" for my home, however: at least one fireplace for ambience and extra warmth, a formal dining room for my love of giving dinner parties, more than one bathroom, a decent-sized yard, and some character to the structure that set it apart from other houses nearby (in other words, no cookie-cutter tract homes if I could help it).

My Civil War-era farmhouse sits on two acres in Baltimore County
I was lucky enough to find a historic farmhouse, built in 1862 by Rezin Worthington (member of a family of vast Baltimore County landholders for whom the nearby Worthington Valley is named), which sits on two acres on the border of what is now known as the URDL (urban-rural demarcation line). Leaning more rural than urban, my street has no sidewalks nor streetlights nor even fire hydrants, although all three amenities can be found just a block to the south in an incorporated part of town. Although my winding, two lane country road seems off the beaten path, I am actually less than three miles from a shopping mall and a freeway onramp leading to an interstate, both of which are terrific conveniences.

I have a swimming pool in my yard
which is refreshing on sultry
summer evenings
At one and a half stories and 30 feet by 30 feet across, my modest farmhouse is bordered by pine trees on two sides and shaded by four ancient, gigantic oak trees. With only a gravel driveway and no perimeter fence delineating my property from my neighbor’s, my house is "country" in a most authentic sense. I rely on a 200-foot deep well for my water and an ancient septic system for wastewater drainage. That the property came with a swimming pool and a separate dwelling for my out-of-town guests was an unexpected bonus. In other words, it is a PERFECT little house for me.

I have a nice front porch for sitting
A few years after I moved to Maryland, I stopped most of the frequent flying for my company and began to focus on research at the nearby National Archives and Library of Congress. As I spent more time at home, I came to realize that I didn’t know a soul around me. I made inquiries and learned that it wasn’t just me; none of my neighbors knew each other very well. So I organized a neighborhood "progressive dinner" on New Year’s day, with appetizers at the first home, salad at the next, the entrée at a third and dessert at still another. The dinner had its intended consequence; we all got to know each other.

My nearest neighbors, only one of whom has been here as long as I have, are all delightful people with diverse careers and in various stages of life, from newly-wedded to mid-child-rearing to those with grandchildren and second careers after retiring from decades in government service. That initial dinner, back in 2003, was a great way for everyone to get to know each other, and I am happy to say that the germination of that seed of neighborliness has grown into an intimate network of friendships far exceeding what I expected.

I dress up the front porch for Christmas 
When the newlyweds next door wanted to build a large shed to store a lawn tractor and other bulky items last year, three other families participated in an old-fashioned "barn-raising".  Utilizing a remarkable collection of skill-sets, they completed the entire shed (as big as a garage) in a single weekend. On the occasions when it has snowed so deep that my little Honda was buried up to the windows, my neighbor with a snowblower has shown up each time to carve out a driveway and paths to my woodpile and guest house.  And when that neighbor was away on business during a storm, another neighbor borrowed his snowblower, not to do just my yard, but all the adjacent yards which needed it. If I go out of town, yet another neighbor feeds my cats and waters my plants. And when I wanted to convert a spare bedroom into a fancy walk-in closet two years ago, one neighbor stepped in to provide all the tear-out and new construction, while another neighbor lent his expertise to the challenging wallpaper application, and still another sewed custom cushions for a window bench in the new room (see my web album about the closet "Bedroom To Closet Conversion").

My new closet became a reality
thanks to my wonderful neighbors
So it was with eager anticipation that I accepted an invitation to attend a casual barbecue across the street on the Saturday before Easter. Allen, a career Coast Guard engineering inspector, mastered his considerable culinary skills in North Carolina where his parents still live. Feeling the urge to slow-roast a pork butt in his custom made smoker, Allen emailed all the neighbors last week to see what potluck dishes we could bring, and a party was on.

At 6:00 a.m. Saturday morning I awoke to the sweet scent of wood smoke wafting through my bedroom window from Allen’s grill across the street. I lingered in bed for a few minutes, savoring the warmth of my down comforter and the purring of my three cats, listening to the faint crowing of another neighbor’s rooster (the rooster lives right next door, but with so much space between our houses the crowing is never so loud that it disturbs my sleep). How lucky I am to live in such a pleasant neighborhood, I thought to myself as I rose to begin a day filled with festive food preparations, both for Allen’s barbecue and for Easter the next day.

Using a recipe passed down to me from my mother, I made dozens of deviled eggs, the egg-whites attractively shaded in pale blues, pinks and speckles from my all-natural egg-dyeing program the previous weekend (see my post "The Buzz"). I put the finishing touches on my baked artichoke-cashew dip and went upstairs to dress for the neighborhood shindig.

Allen finished his smoked pork with
three different homemade sauces
Knowing the party would take place in Allen and Jackie’s sizeable yard, I dressed casually for the cool evening weather: a black knit "cold-shoulder" top with fun fringe around the neckline from Boston Proper catalog ( over comfy black Levi’s Perfectly Slimming bootcut jeans from Macy’s and vintage "waffle-stompers"; black suede, lace-up hiking boots with waffle-tread soles that I’ve owned for over thirty years. I kept my jewelry casual, too, with a simple black- and crystal-beaded choker necklace and matching earrings that I bought in California back in the 1970s.

Jackie with her grandbaby,
Hailey Rose, and three-year-
old neighbor, Mikayla
The get-together with my neighbors was loads of fun. I was delighted to see the amazing development of Allen and Jackie’s first granddaughter, little Hailey Rose, whom their daughter, Katie, gave birth to within a week of my own grandniece’s birth ten months ago in California. I reveled in the news that Mike and Maria next door, who just got back from two months in Maria’s native Argentina with their three-year-old daughter Mikayla, are expecting another little girl, this one due in September. And I was the lucky recipient of an invitation to another party, this one slated for early June to celebrate neighbor Leroy and Michelle’s oldest daughter, Samantha’s, graduation from high school and shift to college life, where she plans to study pharmacology.

Allen shows off his
homemade salsa
Barely able to resist Allen’s offer to take home some of his outstanding pork barbecue, I still came away from the party bearing more gifts than I took: a dozen eggs from Allen and Jackie’s three chickens, two jars of homemade pickles, grown in their sizeable garden and put up in their kitchen, and a beautiful ceramic deep-dish pie plate I borrowed for a pie I was to bake for Easter dinner with friends the next day.

Maria slices her gorgeous
and tasty homemade flan
It doesn’t matter to me that I live in relative isolation on my two acres, for I really am not alone. Instead, I am surrounded by the affection and warmth of neighbors who are also friends, who truly care about whether I am all right, who look out for me day and night, and who rush to my aid whenever it’s needed. If settling in a neighborhood with good neighbors is a no more than a lucky roll of the dice, then I truly have hit the jackpot. I am fortunate, indeed.
"While the spirit of neighborliness was important on the frontier because neighbors were so few, it is even more important now because our neighbors are so many"
-- Lady Bird Johnson

No comments:

Post a Comment