There Goes the Neighborhood

As one of the youngest couples in our new community, we assumed we wouldn't have anything in common with the older residents. We were wrong.

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My parents have lived in the same house for more than 50 years, and have no plans to move anytime soon, especially not to a neighborhood filled with what my 91-year-old dad calls "old people." Unlike my folks, my husband Perry and I were ready for a change.

The morning of our downsizing move, the overloaded moving truck crawled up our driveway as our neighbors fluttered near our front door like moths drawn to a wool sweater. The woman next door with cropped gray hair and a Southern drawl, gave me a small gift bag with two bottled waters inside. Before I could close the front door, the couple two doors down—he a retired psychologist, his wife, a former teacher—handed me a small card with their home phone number, in case we "need anything." I closed the door, took a deep breath and, on my way to the garage, the doorbell rang.

A fast-talking, white-haired man in a sweatsuit introduced himself as president of the homeowner's association. He shared a few of the association's rules, including "Don't block the street or sidewalk with an oversized truck." Not unlike eager correspondents at a press conference, curious neighbors questioned us about our former neighborhood, the number of children we had, and if we would friend them on Facebook.

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I smiled and answered most of the queries from each visitor—in between telling the movers where to place the furniture—but my anxiety over the number of boxes I needed to unpack rose as my ability to make small talk plummeted. Although I've always considered myself outgoing, by the end of moving day, as the barren truck pulled out of the driveway, I transformed into an introvert, desperate to close the blinds, disable the doorbell and apply for the witness protection program.

I couldn't remember specific names of my new neighbors, yet I recalled one person's jarring comment: "You'll love this neighborhood. Everyone knows everyone else's business." I felt a slight chill as my mind flashed back to my teenage years. Like a night watchman, my neighbor across the street spent most weekends stationed at her front window, eager to spy on my friends and me. Had Perry and I moved into an area filled with dozens of people worse than my high school version of Mrs. Kravitz, the nosy neighbor from one of my favorite childhood shows?

A few weeks after we moved in, we invited my sister and brother-in-law over for dinner. "You know you guys live in a retirement community, right?" my brother-in-law joked while we toasted to our new home. Perry and I laughed at his comment, yet caught the look in each other's eyes. He was right. Although we weren't in an official retirement community, we had moved into a neighborhood people had downsized into dozens of years before.

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As one of the youngest couples in the neighborhood—we're both in our mid-50s—we assumed we wouldn't have anything in common with our older neighbors, most of them in their 70s. They quit working years ago, while we are consumed with the daily demands of our respective businesses. We determined the effort it would take to cultivate friendships with the seniors surrounding us would be a waste of time for all parties involved. What would we talk about? How would we find common ground?

But then, an early morning wake-up call from my 30-something friend opened my hypocritical eyes. She invited Perry and me to dinner with her husband, also in his 30s. I didn't hesitate to say yes, as we've celebrated birthdays with our longtime friends, attended their wedding and are planning to vacation with them next spring. Our 20-year age difference doesn't matter to our close friends. Why should 15 years be an issue within our new community?

The next day, we vowed to change our attitude and make an effort to meet our neighbors. If someone walks in front of our home, instead of rushing to close the garage door, we stop to talk. When Perry leaves for work each morning, he happily greets the often-whistling guy walking his beagle and nods to the neighbor going for a run. In our old neighborhood, where everyone was close to our age, keeping to ourselves seemed normal. In our new neighborhood, it seems rude.

One afternoon, Perry pulled into our house as two neighbors collected the mail from the box at the end of our driveway. I was shocked they were admiring his truck—the same vehicle capable of making an airplane soaring above sound like a housefly darting from one window to the next. When Perry asked the tiny, informal focus group whether they could hear the deep rumbling of his truck each morning—I've told him I can hear the neighbors hating us each time he starts the engine—they assured him they couldn't. A few minutes later, he rushed into the house to share his latest idea.

"Let's host a martini night to meet everyone on our street!" he suggested.

"Why don't we set up chairs by the mailbox and meet people that way instead? I asked.

"Come on, it'll be fun! And I'll rent a golf cart to drive everyone home after the party," he said.

"We'll see," I said, implementing the same strategy I used to deflect a few of my sons' unreasonable requests when they were younger.

Normally I'm the one to suggest we host a party … with our friends. But considering I would know only a handful of the 40 or so guests, I was hesitant to say yes. My spouse has always had the ability to make friends quickly in a crowd, while I prefer to meet people at smaller gatherings, or, instead, stay home and read, which I realize does little to develop relationships with others.

Although our new neighborhood is mostly made up of seniors whose presence is more effective than an elaborate alarm system, we've developed several friendships and on occasion, even shared a glass of wine or two. We feel part of a community that only six months before, I couldn't imagine embracing. The couples here seem as happy to welcome us to the neighborhood, as we are to live here, including the gentleman across the street who just last month felt comfortable enough to insist I call him by his first name, Bill. I was thrilled he viewed me as a friend, while at the same time, embarrassed.

I've called him Jim since the day we moved in.

Maybe a martini party is a good idea, after all.

Tags: friendship