Wednesday, November 28, 2007

In Praise of Neighbors

While I was out and about running some errands this evening, I was reminded of one major reason I like living out here on The Poor Farm. I've been down for the last few days with some sort of stomach malady, and I needed supplies.

I rarely go to my hometown much anymore, because it is out of the way driving to my workplace. I tend to shop at that town rather than drive to my hometown or the other "big city" to the east I used to shop and work. So, I don't see a bunch of people I know in the city to the west. They say everyone meets at Wal Mart and it is true in these predominantly rural areas.

My first stop was at the local parts house. I ran out of washer fluid on my little trip, so I needed some. I knew I could get some winter formula there - so I caught them just about closing time. Well, of course it was Old Home Week with the guy behind the counter - we hadn't seen each other since a cookout this summer. We didn't spend much time - he ended up on the phone, and I had other places to go, but we basically got caught up.

The next destination was my buddy's fuel islands and car wash. The pickup needed a bath and some gas. Who did I run into but our county Sheriff. He basically inherited the job after his older brother (the previous Sheriff) passed away from complications from cancer. I'd heard he was a bit reluctant to take the job - he was our hometown police chief and just wasn't wild about the extras involved. So, I asked him about that. He was enjoying the job these days. He was concerned about what I was up to, so I got him caught up. Altogether an enjoyable little chat. I assured him he had my vote in the next election, which he certainly appreciated.

Next, and last, was the grocery store. I'm actually a shirttail relative of the owner. He has several stores scattered over the area to the east. While I was shopping, I ran into the mother of one of my friends. She and her husband are custom harvesters. Mostly, they run the show themselves. Sometimes they hire temporary help, but most of the time it is just them. He has one combine, and she drives two semis. They've been doing it this way for nearly forty years.

Now, they are in their sixties, but when they were younger they cut a rug. He is a strapping, tall curly haired gentleman. She is short, trim and with a bobbed 'do that has streaks of silver in the dark brown. Both have the lined leathery skin of people long exposed to the sun. In his younger days, his strength was legendary. He didn't bother with engine hoists when he overhauled motors. That sort of heavy lifting eventually ruined his back, so he's not as likely to carry anvils just for the fun of it anymore, but he sure did at one time. I wouldn't want to cross him, or for that matter - her - even today.

We talked for about an hour, right there in the aisle. I was informed in no uncertain terms that if I didn't have anyplace to go for Christmas - I was invited to their family shindig. I do have plans, but if for some reason it fails to pan out, my name will be mud if I don't show up.

I got home to a phone call from my next door neighbors. They will be taking me to the hospital tomorrow morning for a lithotripsy. It will be an outpatient procedure, but the hospital won't release me on my own - someone has to pick me up.

These neighbors farm and lease the pasture here at The Poor Farm. They are an old fashioned bunch. The kids have worked since they were old enough to be of some help - after school and all summer. The eldest girl is in junior college in the town to the west. The son is a senior at the hometown high school, and the youngest daughter is just now fourteen, with a learner's permit to drive. I've seen these kids grow up, and have helped tutor when they needed it - mostly math. These are the people who had me for Thanksgiving. These are the people who I call to feed my pets when I'm out on the road for longer than I planned. These are the people who watch my place, and check if strangers are messing around where they shouldn't. These are the people who stop by if they see I haven't left the place for a couple days - because they know I'm probably sick. They've always been there for me, and consider it nothing - it's just something you do out here.

I'm in a bit of a bittersweet mood about all this. These sort of people are a dying breed. These neighbors were some of the "young bunch" a few years back, but the kids are leaving the nest. There is a young family farming fairly close, but there just aren't as many as there used to be. When the custom harvesting family retires - there won't be anyone carrying that on. My friend, their son, works for the state road department. His parents would not be happy if he gave that job up to take over the family business. He'll probably end up taking over their farmground. He does run some livestock with his parents, but the harvesting will be over.

These are the kind of people who stop if you have a flat tire out in the boonies, or whatever the trouble may be. If an ice storm rips branches from your trees, they'll be there to help clean it up. If someone dies, they bring food to the house, and show up at the funeral.

Living where I do, I may forgo some of the pleasures and benefits of a major metropolitan area. I'm not going to see the latest off Broadway show, nor will I see much in the way of an independent film screened somewhere. There is no municipal orchestra. I won't be able to purchase certain ethnic food ingredients for that special recipe. No Starbucks out here. We have Wal Mart, not Costco. Our "overnight mail" - well, since there are no major airport hubs - not so much (it's usually two day service).

But ya know, I really don't miss all that stuff at all. I grew up without it, and I'm not wild about all the drawbacks of a major city. From where I sit, I feel like I've come out ahead.


Anonymous said...

That is kind of the opposite of us here in the city. I live twelve feet away from my next door neighbor and 150 feet from the one behind me. I could be laying dead in my yard for a week and no one would care. The guy across the street is the only one that I talk to. 11 years of being gone all the time kept me from knowing them. I would give anything to move out in the country. I grew up in a small midwestern farm town and miss that lifestyle badly. Enjoy it for me will ya?

Jeffro said...

Heh - I can do that, Tim.

Another indicator for me is pet behavior. Just try to get a dog - even in a small town - to come to you. They've learned not to trust people. It's not an ingrained behavior. It's learned.

Most farm dogs are open and friendly. They haven't been taught to mistrust people.

Jeffro said...

I just checked Sitemeter - you were visitor number 1000 to my little corner of Algore's intertubes. I owe ya a beer someday! Take care out there on the road, Tim.

threecollie said...

What a nice post! And so true of rural areas everywhere, even here in relatively unfriendly Yankeeland. When my husband had emergency surgery and my late mother-in-law and I were left all alone with the farm it was just a wonder how many folks showed up to help.

Bob's Blog said...

Thank you for telling us more about your country life. Best wishes to you on your medical procedure tomorrow. I hope it alleviates the pain you've been experiencing.

ptg said...

Rural America, still the best place on Earth to live.