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  • elizabethpeterson922

I have always wanted to have a neighbor just like you

I used to love watching Mister Roger's Neighborhood on TV as a kid. Sesame Street and The Electric Company were the hipper versions of television programming for kids, of course, and I loved them, too. But it was the comfort and routine and, ultimately, the unwavering kindness of Mister Rogers that fished me straight into his little make-believe world. I know I am not alone in this, as millions of have fans have attested--not to mention the success of recent films like Won't You Be My Neighbor (2018) and a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019). I grew up with a slew of older brothers, and they teased me relentlessly for watching Mister Roger's Neighborhood. There was only one television in the house, one of those enormous boxes that took up half the living room, and I remember turning the volume down really low so I wouldn't attract attention. I wanted to watch in secret so I could avoid any taunts. It turns out that the satisfaction of settling into Mister Roger's world every day was worth any teasing I would face for watching it.

It has been a long time since I knew any neighbors, at least very well. In December, one of my childhood neighbors died. The last time I remember spending any time with her was more than twenty years ago, at my father's funeral. At the graveside service, she gripped my hand devoutly, unwavering, as my father's coffin was lowered into the ground. I was sobbing, and I ran out of tissues. She reached into her coat pocket to give me more tissues, never once releasing my snotty hand in the process.

She was a wonderful neighbor, and so was her husband. After my father died, they used to look in on my mother. They would show up at the back door to the house bringing things like fresh vegetables from their garden, or bread they had just baked.

Mrs. C was 92 years old when she died. She was such a kind and loving person. I haven't lived in Utah for more than 25 years now, and I hadn't seen Mrs. C for more than 20 years. I live in a place that couldn't be more different than the Mormon village where I was raised. There has been a whole lot of life between now and then. Yet when I heard the news of her passing, my brain careened right back to the block where I grew up, in that little village, as if no time nor distance had passed. Good neighbors are hard to find, and the passing of Mrs. C was a solid reminder of how meaningful people like her are.

It has been a long time since I had a good neighbor.

It has been a long time since I had a good neighbor. Or, that is, I am sure many of them are good, it's just that I don't really know them, and I haven't for a for a long, long time. In our city apartment in Helsinki, we chat with the people who live in our building, but the years pass on and we don't really know each other. We just say a few words about how the kids are growing or vacations we have been on. And that's already quite a lot! Many people who live in Helsinki tell me that their neighbors don't even say hello.

There was a news story yesterday about an older man in Paris who slipped and fell while out for a stroll. No one stopped to help him. Nine hours later, when an ambulance finally showed up, it was far too late. He was already nearly dead from hypothermia -- and, in fact, he died later in the hospital. This sad story could have happened anywhere, including Helsinki. I myself have fallen on the ice before and no one stopped to help me or to inquire if I was okay. People just walked on by, absorbed in their own life and problems. That's how it is.

It's different out here in the countryside, though, and I am grateful for that. My jaded city heart needed a reminder of what it's like to be neighborly and look after each other.

It's different out here in the countryside, though, and I am grateful for that. My jaded city heart needed a reminder of what it's like to be neighborly and look after each other.

It has been snowing here in the countryside since yesterday afternoon. I just heard a tractor drive by on our little lane. The tractor is owned and operated by one of our neighbors, and his grandson takes care of keeping our little road clear of snow.

There are a number of houses along our lane, and we like it that way. While the aim of many Finns seems to be to get as far away from other people as possible when they go to their summer house, we were happy to have neighbors around. We like waving at our neighbors when they drive by. We like that they stop and chat when they pass by. We like knowing that if anything happens to our house or property, they are watching and they will help us.

During Christmas, we visited a couple of our neighbors. This is something I would never do in our city apartment -- people would think I was weird -- but out here in the countryside I packed up little boxes of homemade goodies and we delivered them to our neighbors. We didn't want to go inside their homes because of concern about accidentally spreading Covid, but our neighbors would not hear of that. We absolutely had to come in for coffee. That's just how it is.

Can you imagine: you show up unannounced in the middle of the day, and the people you are visiting not only open the door to greet you, but insist that you come inside? And then tables and chairs are swiftly cleared away, you are instructed to sit, and you are treated to home-brewed coffee (what my dad used to call "sheepherders' coffee") and an array of treats that are conjured up from some hidden pantry.

When the coffee's done, so is the conversation. It's time to go. There is nothing awkward or weird about it, because that's just the routine.

The same procedure occurred a few days later with another neighbor. She had time to plan, though, because she knew we were coming. One day when she was walking by to fetch her mail, we stopped for a chat and told her we had a little gift for her. What this means in practice is that she had time to clear her kitchen table in advance; other than that, the procedure was the same as the other neighbor.

While we were sitting at our neighbor's table drinking coffee, looking out her kitchen window toward our own little red house, she told us what good neighbors live along our lane. She should know: she has known them nearly her entire life. When she is sick, she said, they look in on her and do her shopping. They share gardening tips and they know things about each other's property and how to run things. They know about each other's lives.

Mr. Roger's song says:

I have always wanted to have a neighbor just like you

I've always wanted to live in a neighborhood with you

So, let's make the most of this beautiful day

Since we're together, we might as well say

Would you be mine? Could you be mine?

Won't you be my neighbor?

I had no idea how much I was missing good neighbors. I am in a much different place and time than I was when I last had neighborly neighbors, but the feeling of comfort and contentment is much the same. RIP, Mrs. C, your legacy lives on.

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