Living out Loud: The People in Your Neighbourhood

This is well after the submission date, and it’s unlikely that anyone will read it. But I decided to participate in LoL, and so I will write this even late.

Neighbourhoods. I’ve basically lived in four, though I might call it five. The brief list: Virginia Beach, where I spent the first 5 years of life, Floyd, where I grew up, Radford, where I went to college, and two in Norfolk: my grandparent’s and my current one.

This is a difficult topic for me (not that Genie ever seems to choose easy ones). Mostly, it’s because of my lack of experience.

My remembrances of the early days post-move to the country are possibly inaccurate; I was young, and things may be out of order. If you asked my parents, you would get a different story. But these are my memories, not theirs; it is our memories that make our past known to us, and give us an indication of self.

In November 1983 (yikes!), we moved to the middle of nowhere. I didn’t know, or understand, what was really happening. I knew we were moving. I probably thought it would be a grand adventure. I had been to a couple of other homes that my parents looked at. However, I had no knowledge of this place. I remember driving for hours across the state of Virginia, and it was dark when we got to the town of Floyd. We had dinner at the Blue Ridge Café. I was tired, but otherwise excited. I had no idea what the area looked like—it was a dark mystery. We continued toward the new house. It wasn’t new. (Yes, this is a story about neighbours, not moving, I promise). We got to the top of the “hill” and climbed out of the car. The dogs were excited, new smells, and being cooped up all day meant they were eager to get out and explore. I was too. I remember being the first through the door, though I probably wasn’t. Stumbling in the darkness, I went into the kitchen. I think my mom turned on a light switch. And the lights came on! My parents were pleasantly surprised—they hadn’t made provisions for electricity yet (oops). More than that, the heat was on and running, so it was warm! Who leaves the heat on for the next owners? The neighbours. We bought the house from a family in who lived just down the hill. The house had become too big for the two older adults (getting elderly by my standards then; they are still alive). They moved in with their daughter down the hill and became our neighbours. I think most of our neighbours are actually one big extended family; they all seem to be related somehow or other. Don’t ask me; I can’t explain it. We camped on the floors that night (I slept in what would become the library). One of the dogs pooed in the back bedroom (which, much to my lack of delight, would become my bedroom). The next morning, I went outside to discover that I lived on a MOUNTAIN. I’d never SEEN a hill the size of the one I lived on! No other houses nearby, by my standards, though I could see two small brick ranch-style homes down in the valley. Our closest neighbours. I didn’t know them yet.

Late fall gave way to hard winter. It was probably January or February. It was our first hard winter, of many to come. The power failed in a snowstorm, and with it, the heat. The old house dropped to unliveable temperatures. We didn’t have wood stoves, only the electrically-powered gas furnace. Even the fireplaces were bricked over and unusable. I remember the pipes freezing, my parents don’t. No running water—the pump to the spring house was electrical. I remember them telling me it was 30 below outside, and it very likely wasn’t, even with wind-chill. But it was below zero. Our neighbours invited us to stay with them. They didn’t have electricity either, but they did have wood stoves, which meant heat and hot food. The one morning I particularly recall was breakfast: a fairly typical country breakfast, with eggs, biscuits and gravy, country-style sausage, and hot applesauce. I loved the applesauce. I think we were only there about three days until power was restored. They took us in and helped out the newcomers, told my dad about the old furnace’s quirks—they were neighbourly. Good people. Very Christian, in all good senses of the word. They included us in Christmas that year, and many afterwards; I still have the Bible that I was given that first year, and oddly, I treasure it. We joined them in church for a time; I played with one of the children, who was near my age (two years older, I think, but SO much older!). Over the years, they helped my family with so many things: rescuing children (me, tangled in a barbed wire fence), alternate ways to get to school when the bridge washed away in spring floods (which happened more than once), ice-driving adventures, digging holes (my dad’s passion seems to be moving large piles of dirt), transportation when our cars were broken… even assisting the fire department when our garage burned down. They saw the flames before we did, they called, and they cut the chain on our gate to open it for the fire truck. They still help my parents today. When we can, we help them as well; for years, my father would till gardens for them every spring. It seems small in comparison, but we didn’t have much. It’s the only time I really think I’ve lived in a community. Some of the neighbours were stand-offish; rude, drunkards, nosy… but generally helpful nonetheless. Sometimes I miss it. This past winter, I visited my parents. The newest neighbours invited us down for a post-Christmas party. Much to my surprise, we went (my parents are really stay-at-home types). It was fun, and a little nostalgic.

Fast-forward by twenty years. My new neighbourhood is nothing like the one I grew up in. My apartment complex is a generally nice place. When I first moved in, I met the neighbours: an elderly couple and an older, disabled gentleman who lived in the apartment beneath mine. Many of the residents had lived here 20 years or more; one still does. Within a year, one of my neighbours had died and his wife was forced to move out. The one below us, however, stayed there for several more years, and we helped him often. When Hurricane Isabel came through, we lost power. I couldn’t provide heat, of course, or electricity. But I had learned to do without power growing up—it doesn’t scare me or bother me. I had hot coffee. I was a GOD. Well, close enough! And I happily shared with my neighbours. As my downstairs neighbour got older, he eventually had to move into an assisted-living facility. I helped his children move some things out of his apartment. They didn’t know what they were going to do with his IMMENSE collection of old vinyl records, which span classical, blues, jazz, swing, and big band (with a few oddballs mixed in). They told me how happy he would be to know that someone would love and appreciate his music. It still makes me smile, and I still have them. I’m working on converting them to digital format—his memorial legacy.

Most of my neighbours now are essentially strangers. All I recognise and greet; some I have socialised with a little, but I don’t “know” any of them, really. As I write this, another set of neighbours are fixin’ to leave (for those who did not grow up in the sticks, this means they are getting ready to move out). I wonder who my new neighbours will be? Will I know them? Will I like them? Will I ever even speak to them?

One Reply to “Living out Loud: The People in Your Neighbourhood”

  1. I’ve always had a fondness for Floyd and its one stoplight. 🙂 Never having lived there myself, the folks there always seem kind. It makes me smile to hear about your great neighbors.

    And yes, making coffee when there is no power is a super power!

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