A garage door is the key to neighborliness

When my family moved to this house, my wish list included a garage-door opener. I put it off in favor of other expenditures, and by the time I actually got one, the car was too big and the garage too full for the one to fit into the other.

So, while I can open the door with ease, I still have to get out of the car in the driveway, in plain sight of my neighbors.

This means that when I come home from the grocery store and open the back of the car to carry in my bags, an elderly neighbor often wanders over. He carries a bag in, and, more important, chats for a while. That's how I learn that the house down the street sold to a nice family, and someone had a bicycle stolen.

Loading up to go to my son's soccer game, I wave at the man across the street. He asks me to watch for their cat, which didn't come home last night.

After the game, when we tumble from the car, the kids next door yell, "Who won?"

My son grows a half inch as he yells back, "We did!"

After I return to my home office following an appointment, a neighbor stops by with a package she signed for. We chat about the coming weekend and decide to get together for games Saturday evening.

After school, the kids and I hang out in the front yard, visiting and playing with the neighbors.

None of this would happen if I pulled into my driveway and slid silently into the garage, the door closing quickly and efficiently behind me. There are people on the street who do this, and I almost never see them.

Sometimes, I waver. In a pouring rain, soaked to the skin by the time I get out of the car and into the house, I think maybe we should clean out the garage.

But then, how would I know that Harry's tomatoes are ripe, please come get

some, or that Laurie needs two boxes of Thin Mints? Would the kids across the street pick up the phone and invite us to come have popsicles, if they couldn't just wave the box at us between the car and the front door?

Of course, my garage door is not solely responsible for the sense of community that I feel here.

In our older neighborhood, the trees are big and many houses have been occupied by the same families for 40 years. There are retired people eager to sit and visit, and stay-at-home moms ready to come out and play. Our school is a few blocks away, our church is less than a mile, Little League fields are around the corner, and a park and swimming pool are close by. We look out for our neighbors, and they look out for us.

So, that old-fashioned garage door forces me to get out, look around, be involved.

This has meaning beyond popsicles and small talk.

It allowed us to call and ask a neighbor to watch our two sleeping children while we hotfooted it to the hospital to have our third at 2 a.m. I have called another neighbor to watch that sleeping babe while I fetched the others at school.

Because we know other people living here and they know us, my children romp on the playscape at a nearby cafe, under the watchful eyes of half a dozen older kids who have babysat for them, coached them in sports, or taught them in church choir.

On a tired Friday evening, we hit the pizza buffet after the last ball game. I take the younger ones home to bed, leaving the oldest with friends who took advantage of that same work-free supper.

When all is said and done, a neighborhood is simply a collection of people. People willing to take a moment, to watch out for someone else's child, to be part of a community.

People who open their own garage doors.

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