Calm, Cool and Committed

Three Moms and a Dude

Mourning the Mertzes

on July 28, 2012

Every television show I can think of has a neighbor. Whether he’s quirky like Cosmo Kramer, nosey like Gladys Kravitz, or wise like Mr. Wilson, the Neighbor seems to be more than a character. He is a slice of Americana. No I Love Lucy episode was complete without a visit from Fred and Ethel Mertz and who would Eric Forman and Kevin Arnold fall in love with if it weren’t for their neighbors, Donna and Winnie?

When I was growing up, my neighborhood was bustling with kids my age. We had the Joneses on one side with four kids and the Smiths on the other with eight. The Turners had anywhere from four to ten foster kids any given year and the Harolds had two of their own and three adopted sons. The Deerbornes, well they had their own colony – 13 kids under their roof and a couple more at college. With all that mischief on the loose, there was always a parent standing on a porch yelling something at someone. Those overwhelmed parents, then, would congregate in someone’s yard and share a laugh over lemonade (that we were never allowed to sip…hmmmm). Birthday parties and Easter egg hunts were always a blast and a simple day of yard work used to turn into an outdoor town hall meeting.

I had a Norman Rockwell childhood. My neighbors and I were always an unidentifiable swarm of children that could be in anyone’s yard or raiding anyone’s pantry at any given moment. My mom used to buy double quantities of Tastykakes and Kool-Aid each summer as it was an unwritten rule that you fed whatever baby birds were in your yard when they started chirping about wanting a snack. My dad used to brag that for not having a garage, he had the most impressive collection of tools and yard equipment in town: Mr. Foster’s snowblower, Mr. Green’s power washer and a half dozen other fancy gadgets were community property. In return, you never knew who may be in the basement using my Dad’s radial arm saw. The kitchen rivaled any quilting bee in varieties of gossip and quiche recipes being exchanged. We had it all and all we had was a good old American Neighborhood.

When my husband and I started shopping around for our first home, the neighborhood played as much of a role in our decision making as the number of bedrooms or square footage of the basement. We wanted Doodle Bug & Sunny to have not only room to play, but playmates with whom they would share their entire childhood. When we picked this house, we scoped out the neighbors’ kids. We smiled when we saw yards that looked like satellite branches of Fisher Price’s R&D department. We walked hand in hand to the local playground and imagined Doodle Bug & Sunny throwing rocks in the pond with a half dozen other giggling children.

Now that we live here, we often wonder if the other houses are even inhabited. Maybe this is one if those nuclear test site neighborhoods like in the movie The Hills Have Eyes. Maybe the “neighbor lady” we saw peering out her kitchen window was an actress hired by the realtor. This is a ghost town. Neighbors drive by and slip into their garages not to be seen again until morning. The Fisher Price playhouse is sun faded but sits unused. My vision of sipping coffee in my brightly lit breakfast nook, chatting with one of the thirty-something women I’ve seen jog by has never come to light.

No one is neighborly anymore. There was no basket of baked goods on our porch when we moved in. No one has asked to borrow Husband’s chainsaw. We couldn’t smell grills firing up on the fourth of July. We ate more Peanut Butter Cups than we handed out on Halloween. I couldn’t even tell you my neighbors’ last names – any of them.

It is not just my neighborhood. My friends claim that they couldn’t pick their neighbors out of a crowd. One friend’s neighbor passed away and his house was sold before half the neighborhood even realized he was gone. What a lonely way to live.

What happened to our American Neighborhoods? Are we too busy? Too wary? Too WiFi? Who sits in our breakfast nooks with us? Who helps us name our treehouse clubs? Who shows up on Christmas Eve to help shovel the driveway? Who still leaves their porch light on for trick or treaters? Where have Fred and Ethel gone?

They are inside their air-conditioned homes watching TV shows and mourning the America that used to be.

–Mamma F

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One response to “Mourning the Mertzes

  1. Molar Mother says:

    Up until our son’s birth, the hubby and I only knew one neighbor — because he kept coming to ask to borrow our iPhone charger (which I refused to lend). He’s since moved away.

    When we took the Little Guy on a walk not too long after we brought him home, one of our neighbors came over and said, “Did you just have a baby?” We nodded. He said, “I saw you rushing out of here that morning, figured that’s what happened. I hope you don’t mind, but when I was spraying for weeds, I sprayed your sidewalks, too.”

    We looked around and, sure enough, our weeds were gone. I guess the Mertzes are still out there…

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