Country Etiquette for Greeting New Neighbors

New neighbors enhanced our vista, and, after allowing a brief week for them to get ''settled in,'' the usual visits began to welcome them, snoop their furniture, find out which church they would favor, and how many young ones would go to school. I had heard this old-time custom had languished but am glad to report that it still has respectable vigor, and the new neighbors feel at home.

Although, this social event was nothing like the buster my wife received so long ago when she came as a bride to invade a territory only in-laws had used since the land was cleared in the umpteen-twenties. She got 156 chocolate cakes and as many, if not more, doilies. Which substantiates what I heard: Neighborhoods have become smaller.

Indeed, our new neighbors, who perhaps are more peripatetic than people used to be, told my wife that they got little attention when they moved into their more recent home. Here, they feel, we may be more old-fashioned.

But to be modest as well as truthful, I think perhaps the traditional rousing welcome to new neighbors was born as much from curiosity as from social etiquette and hearty goodwill.

To begin with, the short period of grace, before the crowd gathered, would presumably let the new lady have time to settle in, but it would also show if she were adept at putting things in order. This one proved to be an excellent housekeeper. And her little girl is classified as a sweetheart.

While the gentlemen do not attend one of these bib and tucker events, at suppertime I got all the details. The new lady was a Bickford from Island Falls but was not related to Jennie Bickford of Livermore Falls, who taught at the Fisher School for one term in 1934, right out of Gorham Normal. You remember Jennie: She later married a Ridley from Center Lovell and went to live in Ohio. Or was it Idaho? The one with reddish hair who sang nice?

In like manner we learn the husband's calling and that he is a nature lover and walks in the woods, and that they have a dog named Hamilcar Barca. Our new neighbor had sugar cookies and gave us all the recipe. Delicious!

In thinking about this, something comes to mind worth a mention: ''work.'' Each lady of the neighborhood attending such a party would take her bag with her current handiwork. Fancywork, so called, because it was hardly proper to profane a high-class get-together by darning socks.

I always suspected that tatting had an upper-crust rating, as not too many people were adept at it, and those who were had a superior way of looking angelic as they played with their fingers up close to their eyes. Tatters didn't look at their work. Needlepoint was next, and fairly low in the rating would be ordinary knitting, like sweaters for new babies.

My current wife is great on them, and when other ladies ask for whom this one is being made, I like her answer: ''Oh, it's just to have on hand. There's no shortage of new babies!''

So we got our new neighbors settled in and properly welcomed in the old-style warm way, and the new lady has already made use of privileges by coming over with a cup to borrow some sugar for a cake. It should never be otherwise.

Neighborhoods, I'm told, have changed. True, I reflect, and think on the first neighbors our pioneer neighborhood had. My great-grandfather had turned his back on the sea, which had brought the first settlers to Maine, and bought upland acres to become a lumberer and a farmer. He cleared his fields and tediously built his house.

Alone in the isolated township, he had nobody living near enough so he could be welcomed or celebrated when he moved into his house. He was more than 30 miles from the settlement at tidewater that he had left to embrace the wilderness, and the mood of Maine people at that time was to fish the sea and to cut and salt the catch and send it to England. My great-grandfather had no reason to suppose he would ever have a neighbor.

Then one morning he stepped from his house into a new dawn and as usual stood a moment to look down his beautiful valley and off across the river at miles of sheer scenery and tell himself one more time that he was content.

Startled, he saw a wisp of smoke, tinted pink by the rising sun, and as smoke in the woodland can mean peril, he was alarmed. Then he assured himself that the smoke was beyond the river, and as it rose in a column it was not wildfire. So, after doing his chores, he had breakfast and set out on foot to investigate. It would be a long day, with no trail to follow and many a blowdown to climb over or go around.

But it was a pleasant day and fine for walking, and the sun was still on the morning side of the day when he reached the place of the smoke, his pants wet from the river. He was relieved to find a clearing, and in the clearing a log cabin of some size with a stone chimney. The smoke was from the chimney.

As my great-grandfather took this in, the door of the cabin opened, and a man in deerhide clothing stepped out, stopping suddenly in his tracks, not expecting to see a visitor.

My great-grandfather, with a broad smile and his broader Lancastrian dialect, waved a hand in the Indian sign of peace and said, ''Good morning to ye, goodman neighbor! Welcome home!''

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