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Good neighbors are a home's best asset

Published September 25. 2010 09:00AM

When we were building a new home in Palmerton decades ago, we had our choice of two lots within the borough.

Although they were quite different in characteristics, both would suit our purposes.

I picked a building lot based on something that was important to me - friendly neighbors. I knocked on the doors of those who lived next to the lots, telling them I was considering building there.

Impressed with the friendliness and sincerity of the East Princeton Street neighbors, I picked that location for our home. I wasn't disappointed. Mary, the daughter of the couple next door, is still the sister I picked for myself.

When I was looking for a home in Florida, I immediately liked a sweet little cottage with a spectacular view. But before I decided, I had a question for the seller: How friendly are the neighbors?

She went on and on, telling me how everyone on the block looks after each other. When you need help, she said, the neighbors are there without being asked.

"They're the best neighbors in the world," she assured me.

She backed up her claim by telling me stories about how the neighbors take care of each other.

When she came down with non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma, it was her neighbors, she said, who drove her for treatments each day, cooked her meals and helped get her through the ordeal.

Kay's rave reviews about the neighbors proved to be true. It's the kind of neighborhood that's a throw back to the days when neighbors care about neighbors and everyone looks after each other.

Those who like privacy and don't want anyone to know their business won't like the neighborhood.

I laugh when I tell the story about having a new love seat delivered. Before the delivery truck ever pulled away, I had a phone call from a friend who lives 10 minutes away. "I hear you're getting new furniture," she said.

Some people would hate a neighborhood like that. But it has always made me feel safer. As a woman who lived alone for years, I like the security of having people keep an eye on me and on my home.

Sometimes, when I'm struggling to put my kayak on top of my car or to carry in a big box, neighbors come running to help.

It's just a small thing, I know, but that neighborliness adds to my delight in where I live.

Two months ago people who live along our street were sad to learn a young mother with three children is dying of cancer. Her husband hasn't been able to find a job for more than a year and she was the only one supporting the family.

In addition to their other problems, the roof leaks and that's a real problem here during the rainy season.

When some hear about problems like that, they may say, "that's a shame," and get on with their own lives.

Not our neighborhood. Neighbors organized a meals committee, making sure the family has a cooked dinner every night. They can't do anything to cure cancer, but they can help to make life easier for the family.

To raise money to help support the children, neighbors organized a yard sale. The more people heard about it, the more cars pulled up loaded with donations.

People didn't just donate stuff they didn't need. They picked some of their most desirable things to donate.

One neighbor, who is rather quiet and keeps to himself, showed up with a telephone autographed by Elvis Presley. "This is my favorite possession," he said. "Sell it anyway you want and donate the money to the family."

It was that generous spirit that prevailed. I never saw a bigger, better yard sale.

The day of the sale, I had tears in my eyes as I surveyed the street and saw the neighborhood out in full force trying to help. One had a refreshment stand. Another put hot dogs on a grill and sold them. I saw one woman buy a hot dog with a $50 bill, saying to donate the change to the family.

That day, they raised almost $4,000 for the family. In addition, neighbors pledged to repair the leaking roof.

While it was a crisis that brought the neighborhood together, it has always been a friendly block. Neighbors hold monthly potluck dinners and everyone watches over the children in the neighborhood.

One little boy said he feels like he has five grandfathers because he can pop into any of the homes knowing he is welcome. He also knows where they keep the snacks they buy especially for him.

Kay, the woman who sold her house to me, moved into a bigger, newer home in a nearby upscale neighborhood. She said she learned bigger is not necessarily better.

Her new neighbors seldom bother to say hello, she said. Eventually, she sold the house and moved back to her old neighborhood.

I grew up in a neighborhood where we could leave our doors unlocked. Those who lived on the street were like extended family, sharing meals or garden produce and caring for each other.

The times of unlocked doors are long gone. But thankfully, neighborliness hasn't disappeared. There are still pockets of friendships within neighborhoods, even though they are harder to find now.

If you are lucky enough to live in a place with wonderful neighbors, then you know you are blessed.

Although good neighbors are a home's best asset, it's one value the taxman can't tap.

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