There were signs a couple of months ago that we were about to lose some next-door neighbors. The first omen was the mid-week sighting of a few racks of clothing set up in the driveway and a handful of women who appeared to be shopping with enthusiasm, chatting and bobbing their heads as they sized up the items before them.
Shortly thereafter we heard what sounded like an end-of-school-year party in their backyard that had somewhat of a “going away” air to it. We could have been imagining it, I decided then, since we do not speak or understand Korean, but I remained slightly on alert for other tip-offs that a change was pending.
One morning near the end of June a Korea Express truck was parked in front of the house, ramp down. A day later, the property had an abandoned look. The evidence was in: For what seems like the umpteenth time in the 26 years we’ve called our house home, there would be another turnover of occupants next door. Do not get me wrong: I think it’s wonderful that whoever owns the house is able to find good, solid tenants who take great care of the property. I simply lament the fact that we don’t ever seem to connect or establish friendships with any of them. It’s our fault, not theirs. We could make a better effort.
We did have a few pleasant encounters with members of this last family in the three years they lived there — a dad, a mom and their son. The boy, a preteen when we met, spoke some English; his parents almost none. But they all had engaging smiles and waved to us when we’d pass on the street, or were in our front yards at the same time.
One time, when our oversized eugenia tree, heavy after a rainstorm, fell on their roof and took out their TV satellite dish, the adults of that household presented themselves at our front door and motioned to me to follow them to their property. We used hand gestures and a lot of nodding to get through the conversation, but it was easy enough to see we had a problem that had to be resolved. It was taken care of that day, and we were thanked profusely, I think, based on the grins and the homemade cake proffered afterward.
In the early 1950s, when our neighborhood rose on land that once was an apricot orchard, the new homeowners built walls and fences along the sides and backs of their quarter-acre slices of paradise. Whoever built the cinder block wall between our back garden and the one that belongs to the now-empty house next door added a charming feature: a little wooden gate, painted white, that allowed easy access between the two yards. It’s simple to look at that gate and imagine kids from the two adjoining households running gleefully back and forth, having twice the amount of space in which to play hide and seek — and ready access to a yard they’ve just accidentally thrown a Frisbee into. That little portal was tailor-made for neighborly bonding.
Sometime before we bought our house, that gate was sealed shut. I often wonder what brought that on. Was it too much of a good thing? Will there ever be a time when two families living in those side-by-side homes agree to unseal it?
Today a couple of workers are scraping and painting the exterior of the place next door while two others seem to be tending to general repairs. We wonder if the house will be put up for sale or if it’s just being readied for new renters. And so we wait and watch for new signs — and hope we don’t let another opportunity to make friends pass us by.
CAROL CORMACI is the managing editor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.