It Takes a Neighborhood To Raise a House

I don't covet my neighbors' possessions, I just borrow them. When I first became a homeowner, I thought I was prepared. I had lived in an unfurnished apartment, so I had enough furniture of my own to give the interior a civilized look.

But I soon realized that furniture is only the most obvious house equipment. A lot of the really useful stuff goes in the garage. I knew I'd need a lawn mower, but I hadn't given much thought to trimmers, clippers, rakes, shovels, and edgers.

The house needed a shelf added here and a doorknob tightened there, so I soon started adding repair tools: hammers, wrenches, screwdrivers, pliers, paint brushes, nails, screws, wing nuts, and strange-looking gadgets I still don't have names for.

It's also important to build the correct vocabulary, although most hardware store clerks have been able to handle requests for "the little round thing you pull up on to make the water stay in the bathroom sink," and "the kind of paint you can wash off the brushes with water."

I had a good start on my tool collection, but was unprepared when the wind broke off a large branch on the tree in my front yard and left it dangling out of reach. As I stood helplessly gazing up at the branch, my next-door neighbor to the north, Monte, appeared with a ladder and chain saw. He cheerfully cut the limb down, chopped it into pieces, and hauled it to his pasture a few blocks away so his cows could eat the leaves. A few weeks later, I recalled his ladder when I had to tighten some loose screws on a furnace vent on the roof. He was happy to lend me the ladder, even letting me choose from several varieties in his garage.

Another morning, as I labored with my grass clippers out on the lawn, my next-door neighbor to the south strolled over with his electric trimmer and told me to borrow it any time.

I had just finished the power trimming when he came back with his small power edger. The lawn hadn't been edged in years, and we weren't making much headway, so Glen, from across the street, wheeled over his huge, heavy-duty edger and finished the job for us. Now it's easy to keep up the edging with the hand-edger I borrow from John, two doors down.

When my garage roof needed re-shingling, Monte loaned me the equipment and even climbed on the roof (on one of his ladders) to teach me how to do it.

I sometimes feel a little guilty about all this mooching, but I try to contribute my share to the neighborhood, pet-sitting and plant-watering when others go on vacation, sharing the fruits of my garden and my traditional homemade jams.

My neighbors have all lived here for decades. They've had plenty of time to build up their home inventories. They're quite patient as I begin my collection. And, as they have all told me repeatedly, the family that lived here before me really let the place run down. The neighbors are relieved that I make the effort to keep the place up.

I'm grateful to my slovenly predecessors for making my feeble efforts look so good in comparison. And I can appreciate the neighbors' sentiments, but I suspect they'd be just as nice no matter who had come before me. I have observed tools occasionally passing among them as well. Maybe someday I'll even have something they would like to borrow.

So, as I begin thinking about my Christmas wish list, sugar plums don't dance in my head as often as hand drills and socket sets. And I'm making a special batch of raspberry preserves with Glen in mind. He has the biggest snowblower.

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