A distinguished company

Eighteen years ago, when this house was built, I could see from my kitchen window fields extending west as far as McCoy Road. In our block there was one other house. An occasional pheasant wandered through the backyard where one weed bloomed and went to seed. Now we have a wall and bushes, mostly overgrown, but lovely in the springtime with their blossoming. The houses closed around us, turning fields to lawns and gardens and moving the pheasant north. But people came with every house and every one of them became a neighbor.

Tom and Betty live across the street. She keeps a watch when we're away. One time Chuck came home early from a trip. As soon as he set foot inside, the phone rang. A voice inquired, ''Who's this?'' ''It's Chuck,'' my husband said. ''Well, this is Betty Cole and I'm just checking.'' If I change the window shade, she calls me. Just could be burglars.

The Eggert girls grew up next door to Betty. They're both in college now; we lived here when one of them was born. When she was a little girl, she painted rocks. I bought one for a dime. It had a charming smile and big blue eyes. I kept it several years, then last year put it outside near the roses. I missed it so I had to bring it in.

Ray Boyd lived across on Lyming-ton. If I wanted to make a flower bed, Ray just happened to need sod. And next to Ray, the Armstrongs, Marge and Milt.

Sissy and Harry live kitty-corner from the Armstrongs. Sissy's our organizer. Every winter she comes up with something. Needlepoint, one year. Marge couldn't get the yarn into the needle. Milt would try to help her, but she never got the hang of it. Then Sissy thought we'd all like contract bridge. It nearly drove me crazy. I sat with sheets of paper in my lap. The bidding simply did me in. One summer it was tennis. I had a pretty dress my mother bought me, but when I threw the ball up in the air, it just came down and hit me on the head. I gave it up. Milt has the Derby parties. I never seem to draw a proper horse.

The Horns live on the corner too. Mike, the youngest, used to help me out. When I needed roses planted, he came over, wearing brand new shoes. He dug the holes, settled in the bushes and trampled down the dirt. I said, ''Mike, those look like awfully good shoes for this kind of work,'' not meaning what it sounded like, and Mike said, ''I guess these must be my hole-digging shoes.'' He's grown up now.

The Horns went to Europe on the QE 2 and we sent them off in style. When they returned, we longed to hear of grandeur on the continent, but Dick just said he was never going to leave the country again, unless he had to go to Cleveland.

Jay Schmidt, who lives the other side of Betty Cole, for years played football in our yard. I was afraid he'd knock the lamppost down. He must have known he wasn't going to, because in football season he was always out there. I talked to him today. He plays outside linebacker for his high school, a veteran at the game.

Pauline and Arthur moved away. For 12 years, we were neighbors. When they moved in, I rang their bell and handed in some flowers. I told Arthur (she was out) we lived next door and they could always borrow an egg. We had Christmas dinner together the last few years, and Pauline made the charlotte russe. Grandmother used to make it, but it's such a lot of work, Pauline took over. Grandmother says she uses too much cream. My dog treed Pauline's cat some years ago, but we stayed friends. She'd walk my dog, and I would feed the cat.

After their garage sale, I sat waiting for the Volunteers of America. Pauline had called them to come for things unsold. Arthur's wooden chest was there. It said ''Lt. Campbell'' on it. I took it home. I thought that it should stay on Langport Road.

I didn't know until I wrote it down how nice it's been to have them all around me helping plant the roses, checking on strange cars, planning our diversions, a distinguished company, just being neighbors in a warm and friendly way.

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