Growing up, my family wasn't close to the people next door. In large part, this was because the places on either side were rentals and the neighbors changed every few years. More than that, I grew up in a family that valued privacy and circumspection. We were polite, we took a casserole over when someone had an illness or a baby, but we didn't barbecue together or hang out around town. We kept to ourselves. That's not to say we didn't have family friends, people whose houses we did go to and who we invited to ours. We simply didn't have that much in common with the families on our street.
I've lived in the country before, had other farms, lived in military housing with the river in front and an eagle sanctuary behind. I enjoy solitude, as long as there's a house close enough to limp to in an emergency. I like being able to walk from the shower to the laundry room naked if I need to. I like laying out without wondering if a creeper is staring at me. I like living my own life free of other people's commentary.
Humans tend to project our foibles, feelings, needs, and worldviews onto everyone and everything around us (i.e. rampant anthropomorphism). I'm no different. Being comfortable in my own very large space, I assume that others desire the same polite bubble. I don't engage unless the distance closes enough to warrant eye contact or speech. Unfortunately, aside from the customary wave, that also makes me the type of neighbor you never hear from unless something is wrong.
Today I read a Facebook post that began, "What happened to neighbors being neighbors?" Well, let me tell you. Fear. Fear has stifled every humane impulse we as a society used to feel, and technology has isolated us to the point that we can barely communicate face-to-face. Our advancements are hindering our social behaviors. Now sometimes we're right to be afraid! People in the country, especially 'round these parts, own guns. You don't just march up and knock on a door. If you're not met with a gun I guarantee you'll be met by a dog, and you can take your chances on which end to believe. There's no threat in that, it's a plain fact of living where dogs have a job of keeping predators and strangers at bay.
We'd seen several large gatherings at a house set way back from the road. They owned a fancy Mustang and a garish yellow pickup. Rumor had it they were rich. We were afraid to walk down the long driveway for fear we'd be hit by rock salt or bird shot, so we went years without seeing their faces. Says Nick: "[One day] I looked up from toiling and said 'that guy looks like someone I could have a beer with' so I went and said hi." It turned out they had plenty in common: a love of Star Wars, IT, Ford Mustangs, and home brewing. Shortly thereafter, a professional fence went up, run in sheds appeared, and Wampa Stomp was born. I decided Bullet needed to get used to the alpacas, so I tacked him up and walked him across the street. He was standing nose to nose with the boys when Chuck and Ila stepped out from the shed. We exchanged pleasantries...and Bullet began to fart. It went on for a very long time; the horse was nonplussed, I was embarrassed, and Chuck and Ila's eyebrows slowly ascended their foreheads. When he finally finished I said weakly, "Yeah...he, uh...does that." The lovely couple continued to chat with me and it became clear that we had things in common as well! Ila offered to teach me how to knit, and I took her up on it.
That was it. A simple conversation. A skill passed on. Mutual interests found. We became friends. As Chuck says, "Togetherness ensued."
Later it would come to light that they had in fact been afraid to talk to us, believing we might be related to some people they'd rather not know.
At the end of the road, Marty amused himself with technology and serving as a one-man neighborhood watch. He checked in at my house on Foursquare often enough to be mayor for a time, and he liked Chuck on Facebook. Chuck went, "He likes Star Wars, Kiss, and Walking Dead? And he lives on our street?! Who IS this guy and why have I not met him???" Chuck, Ila, Kathy, and Marty officially met at Wampa Stomp's Shearing Day. A month later, we met at Ballyhoo's Shearing Day. If Marty is great, Kathy is Fabulous, and Daphne, their daughter, is amazing. Kathy has an infectious laugh, wonderful taste, a giant heart, and garden gnomes named after Shakespeare. It was clear that first afternoon that we would all be together a very long time, and they have been family ever since.
This picture was taken after I helped Chuck and Ila with a dying emu and a dead cria, after I house sat with a torn up foot, after Ila successfully taught me knit and I got sheep again. It's after Nick and Chuck exchanged home brewing secrets, several seasons into Walking Dead, after Daphne crossed "catching a fish" off her summer Bucket List. But it's before we met Mary. I have made important friends on or around my birthday a few times in my life. They always play a special role in my development or support. Mary, I think, is no different.
Mary bought the house just up from Kathy and Marty's last summer. After approving her Facebook page, ChIla and I took her a welcome basket, but she wasn't home when we stopped by. Consequently, we didn't meet Mary and her dog Maggie in person until sundown the day of my birthday party. It was immediately apparent that she was one of us. First, we didn't already have a redhead. Second, her dog had a glow light collar (technology). Third, said dog is a cadaver search dog (weird hobby). Lastly, Mary is a deep well of mystery, surrounded by stories, wrapped in knowledge, running around her house naked (outside). How could we not love her?!
We are Woolbury.
We are the luckiest people in the world. We are a community in every sense, drawn to a place where we can share our interests, our minds, and our lives. If family is made by the endurance of love, of common goals, of people who intrinsically know when to push and when to give space, then we are most certainly a family. Our neighbor-ism goes beyond borrowing a cup of flour (thanks Ila) or helping each other tend to livestock. As a fiber community we have woven a security blanket that ties us to each other at all times. If there's a crisis, we are there. If there's a party, we are all asleep the day after. If there's an issue, we're all on the same side. You mess with one, you mess with all. And whenever someone responds, he or she acts on behalf of and with the support of the community as a whole. When a Woolburian knocks on your door, you're gonna get a hug worth 9 people. These women have thrown themselves to the ground for me. These men have shed blood. And I've been sexually assaulted by an alpaca for them. *Giggle* At the end of the day though, it's not about what we've done. There is no score card. It's about living with folks who "get" you, who understand. It's nice being in walking distance of parties I can wear my pajamas to. It's refreshing to know that my community will never discriminate against me based upon religion, race, politics, creed, interests, gender, livelihood, or things I say when I am hangry. The same love, responsibility, acceptance, and expectations apply to us all.
I'll close with a statement from Kathy: "I love living in the boonies. Not too many people within spitting distance, land, and lots of gorgeous starlit nights.
I was expecting to be left alone by neighbors (what could I have in common with them?!) and only have Kevin Dowell harass us on a regular basis.
Imagine my pleasant surprise when Honey and a neighbor found each other on Foursquare and realized they were like, separated at birth. Now, a little over a year later, we have formed our own crazy amazing family. Gorgeous women have taught me how to knit, had me wrangle sheep, tried to have me assassinate their turkeys, and made me less intimidated when it comes to farm crap. Handsome men have cooked me buffalo, elk and deer and toasted me in Irish.
In a year, we have celebrated birthdays, holidays, and nothing. We have cried on shoulders and been the shoulders that were cried on.
In short, (or long) I am so blessed to have all of these people in my life and I love them all."
Welcome to Woolbury. It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood.... We've got stars. They live in the houses all around me. A beautiful day in the neighborI love my neighbors.