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Be the Neighbor You Wish You Had

"Stay off my lawn!" We often heard that when one of us hit a home run in whiffle ball. A home run was a hit that landed in the yard of the neighbors across the street.

"Stay out of my gardens!" We heard this often, also. The neighbors on the corner would tell us that when a football got loose and rolled beyond their driveway.

"Please don’t climb the fence. You might get hurt." We heard this once from Esther Bundy shortly after Todd’s dad put a hoop up for us in his new parking area behind their home.

We would hear the first two neighbors tell us time and time again over many years to stay off the lawn and out of the garden.

Esther had her husband, Dick, install a gate for us the next weekend near the basketball court so we could safely retrieve our ball from their yard. Unlike the other neighbors who seemed to resent us as kids doing things kids do, Dick and Esther Bundy showed us love and nurtured us while demonstrating for us how loving and nurturing neighbors treat neighborhood children.

Though I can’t speak for Chris or Todd, I did not hate the neighbors who yelled at us. It was more like I feared them. They were decent, law abiding people who simply happened to also be old curmudgeons.

We also did not hate Dick and Esther. To the contrary, we loved them. We were always greeted with a smile, acknowledged by our names, and encouraged to do our best. Chris, Todd, and I were not treated specially by them. All the neighborhood children were treated that way, and every child in the neighborhood loved and adored them.

They were huge influences on me, and still are even though they both are now gone. If children today love me because I greet them with a smile, acknowledge them by their names, and encourage them to do their best, it is because I wanted to grow up to be like Dick and Esther in that way.

I hear adults, some of them my children’s ages, talk about children these days showing little respect for their elders. I do not seem to experience that disrespect. I wonder how many of those other adults’ experiences are because they have grown up to be old curmudgeons, even though some of them are my children’s ages. It’s as if they have either forgotten what it is like to be a child, or they have accepted that part of being an adult is to resent children for being childlike.

Not everybody had Dick and Esther as neighbors. They were such rare people that I imagine many people did not even have neighbors like them. That may be a reason why some people treat neighborhood children with indifference or despite, but it is not an excuse. It does not take much imagination to consider what kind of neighbor you wish you had even if you did not have the shining example of Dick and Esther Bundy. Doing so will also go a long way toward influencing children to be respectful and considerate.

If, instead of chastising children for retrieving balls from your precious garden, you told them it is okay, but please do not step on the plants, the children likely will not hastily retrieve the ball in an effort to not get caught. Rather, the children are likely to take care to not step on the plants so that they may please you, and later remember that kind gesture in dealing with neighborhood children when they become adults.

You not only eliminate stress from your life, you also are allowing children to be childlike and implanting them with an example they will likely try to emulate to generations of children yet to come.

Your yards and gardens may be beautiful, and they may be a great source of pride for you. However, they will never make a neighborhood, or your own life, more enjoyable than will happy children in the neighborhood who return the love and respect you show them by greeting them with a smile, acknowledging them by name, and encouraging them to do their best.

All it comes down to is simply being the neighbor you wish you had.

Some other things I've written about: