Our neighbours can have a big impact in our lives. As elders, we probably have had both good and bad relationships with our neighbours, at one time or another. In my last home, I had a delightful couple on one side and very irritating neighbours on the other! With the increase of high-density housing, it’s almost understandable that we have become somewhat protective about ‘our space.’
When I reflect back on my early childhood (in the 1950s), it seems like neighbours tended to really bond, to form a common life. The woman next door became my mother’s best friend. And even though we eventually moved to a bigger house in a different part of town they stayed friends for the rest of their lives.
I’m in my late sixties and I’m still Facebook friends with some of those neighbourhood kids that I grew up with in the 1950’s even though I live in a different country. In my particular neighbourhood, one family started attending a certain church and really liked it, so then another neighbour tried it and soon there were six houses on the block all attending the same church. Many of them still go to that same church and I catch up with them when I visit my family.
I recently bought a new home. It is always daunting making major decisions, like buying real estate but I had a strong feeling that it was time to move. It seemed like a crazy thing to do at my age. After all, my house was small and easy to care for and I owned it free and clear of any mortgage. However, I had a strong ‘knowing’ that I needed a change and that this was the right time to make the change. It took me a few months to get the house ready to sell, cleaning out closets and painting a couple of rooms.
I had started to look at houses while I was getting mine ready. Once I put my house on the market, it sold in two weeks and I had found my new dream home. Again, outsiders might have thought I was making a crazy choice because my new house was very large and in a new area about an hour from where I had been living for the past thirty years. But I knew it was the right house and the right move.
Now ten months down the road, I’m more in love with my new home than I was when I bought it. I’m also now in love with the neighbours and the neighbourhood.
A couple of months after I moved in, the house next door sold and they began renovations. There were two noisy months filled with the sounds of construction – unpleasant but understandable. I had the rare occasion to say “hi” to the new neighbour but she was busy with workers and so we didn’t engage too much.
After the interior had been completed, she started to work on the outside of the house. One day I was outside when she was working and she mentioned to me that she was going to be taking some large greenery out between our houses and she hoped I didn’t mind. The trees were blocking both light and air flow through her windows because the trees were right up against her house. I assessed that her windows were high so it wasn’t like she would suddenly be looking into my lounge room and after all, the trees were on her property so what say did I really have? I told her that I couldn’t see that it was a problem for me as our windows didn’t align and I wasn’t worried about her seeing into my lounge room anyway.
A few days later the trees were gone and then what became very clear was that out of my lounge room windows I was left with a massive stretch of brick wall. Now it felt like a problem because I was left with an institutional view from my living area. Hmmm. What to do? I definitely did not want to get off to a bad start with my new neighbour. Later that day she was outside working and I went out to talk to her. I pointed out that while I had initially had no objection to her removing the trees, I now could see that the greenery had been a much more appealing view than a tall brick wall. We discussed how to solve the dilemma so it was a satisfactory solution for both of us.
As it turned out, we decided to go to the nursery together. We picked out some lovely flowering native bushes that will grow tall enough to be viewed from my lounge windows but not so tall as to block her high bedroom windows. We planted the bushes down the middle of the property line, also leaving plenty of space for the air to flow. We split the cost of the bushes, the mulch and the gardener to plant them. I offered to water them daily as we planted in the middle of summer. But then I discovered I didn’t have a tap on that side of my house and my hose wouldn’t stretch far enough to water the trees. My neighbour said I could use her tap, so I did the manual work of watering the new plantings daily and I used her water supply.
One of the plants died for some unknown reason. We puzzled over this together. The next time I was at the nursery I bought a replacement plant and watered it in. We now often stop to chat when we are both outside, taking time to look at our flowering native bushes, cherishing the colourful blooms (even in the Australian winter.) We have a joint project, a common interest.
So rather than putting up fences and separating ourselves into our little boxes in a suburban area, we have found a way to create a common space that we both are interested in caring for. This was the beginning of a blooming relationship.
We have since discovered that we like to attend the same community choir in a nearby town and we are now even carpooling to it and other events.
I could have chosen to be upset with the initial renovation and construction – after all it became the soundtrack to my first summer in my beautiful new home! Or, I could have chosen to be upset and brooded and scowled about the removal of the greenery outside my living area, using it as an excuse to not like my new neighbour. But instead, in spite of the rocky start, I was more interested in how to build a loving relationship with the woman who was going to be my neighbour from now on.
Gayle C., Australia