Lifestyle

The Old People’s Neighborhood

June 21, 2017

The house we’re staying in is situated in a neighborhood full of old people. I say this with great affection, not condescension, because I’m convinced these people are the most wonderful neighbors in the world.

In my time here, I’ve observed that residents in this neighborhood are the sort who walk their dogs three to seven times daily, mostly golden retrievers, overweight bulldogs, and meticulously groomed poodles.

They often water their lawns by hand at dusk, moments after their automatic sprinkler systems have turned off. You just can’t be too sure, you know? And if you want something done right, you better do it yourself.

On national holidays, most neighbors pay for the boy scouts to anchor huge American flags in the center of their lush, green lawns. It looks like a parade of patriotism down the street, star spangled banners waving in the wind beside driveways occupied with large SUVs. It would seem that not only are these neighbors exceptional stewards of their landscaping, they also love America very, very much.

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I have been waved at by many of them, as waving seems to be the neighborhood passion and talent. When I walk out to the mailbox with my mom or load a child into the car, several white-haired retirees are usually around to pursue meaningful eye contact with me, paired with a sincere smile and heartfelt wave. It is truly wonderful, as if I get a welcoming committee each time I go outside. I think Molly assumes she has acquired a dozen or so new grandparents.

Occasionally, I’ve been waved at with the sternness of a disconcerted parent. This only happens while I’m driving. Concerned citizens wave their hands up and down and mouth the words “SLOW DOWN!!”… as I drive past at a raging speed of 19mph in a 25mph zone.

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There’s Miss Ouida on the corner who once told Molly that the wild bunnies in the area eat the flowers she plants in her yard. Now Molly has become a self-appointed bunny vigilante, personally protecting Miss Ouida’s flowers from their pending destruction.

Obviously, this is a tough spot for Molly to be in, because she cares for our dear neighbor’s flowers, but like any three-year-old, she adores bunnies. Each time we go for a walk, we have a quandary of loyalty on our hands, making our stroller walks an actual ethical dilemma.

There are several military retirees on the block, each of whom are personally invested in Mike’s transition out of the military. They tell him pilot stories from the 70’s and 80’s, about their worst duty stations and best drinking stories. They do this while hand watering their lawns, of course. The spray of the water hitting already-damp grass while our dog chases theirs.

It seems to me that there is a dress code for the neighborhood: collared golf shirts and khaki shorts. Visors are optional, as are leashes on dogs.

And I love it. There is a coherency here, a tightness to a community where everyone is known and accounted for, where people pick up after their dogs and add five minutes of casual driveway conversation for every ten minutes of pedestrian exercise.

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This not a retirement community. It just so happens that almost everyone who lives here is over the age of sixty. And as much as I get a kick out of the unique characteristics of an old people neighborhood, I’m also moved by how genuinely they care for one another, how truly invested they are in the vibrancy of the street, not just the lushness of their own lawns.

When our dog Bailey got out the other day, one neighbor walked her home before we even realized she was gone. Bailey wasn’t wearing a collar or any other identification, but this neighbor knows who belongs where.

If my mom walks next door to borrow a spice for dinner, it will take her— no exaggeration— forty-five minutes to return home, usually having forgotten the spice she went out for in the first place. Instead, she will return home with a detailed account of the perceived health and happiness of each neighbor, with the business card of the contractor who’s redoing one person’s bathroom, an itemization of corporate HOA complaints, and the political musings of several neighbors as they correlate to worrisome current events.

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After living here for a few weeks, I’ve decided that I cannot wait to grow old.

And when I do, I hope to live in a neighborhood just like this one. Because there is a communal generosity here, a sense of shared responsibility, a culture of kindness.

This neighborhood is a tutorial on the fact that the best place to live is among others who are looking out for you, who text you if you forget to close your garage, who pickup and hold packages delivered to your front door lest anyone attempts to steal your Amazon Prime delivery of new gardening gloves.

Here’s what I hope to gain with age: a conviction that I am not simply an occupier of space, but a caretaker of it; that I am not only a resident, but a neighbor hemmed into community.

Mike and I are looking at other houses and in a few weeks we will move into our own. But I’m going to miss this street and all the ways the old have taught the young—- not just about lawn maintenance, but how to be a very good neighbor.

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