The topic for Week 25 in Amy Coffin’s and Geneablogger’s 52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History series is Neighbours. Who were your childhood neighbors? Have you kept in touch with any of them? Do you feel the concept of neighbors has changed since then?
Of course like most Australians, on reading this week’s topic the theme song from the TV series Neighbours immediately started playing in my head even though I never watched the show that I can recall.
So, neighbours…I suppose when I was growing up neighbours were quite important. One set of our immediate neighbours was my paternal grandparents so of course they were pivotal to my childhood and teenage years. For me it was like having two homes to be able to jump over the fence and pop next door to spend time with them, climb the mango tree, listen to Scottish music or whatever. When I was a child most of the neighbours, which included more people than those just adjoining our house, had lived in the area for many years and since that’s where my father grew up, he knew them all.
Apart from my grandparents there were some neighbours who were pivotal to my early life. I’ve already mentioned in other posts how one lot of neighbours would take phone calls for us, drive me to the library or Guides, let me practice on their piano with their daughters. Our lives were generally very interlinked. Although my mother kept in touch with this family after they left the suburb, I lost touch with the daughters after they and I moved away in adult life. Another family were regularly part of our extended network and their children were part of my usual group of playmates: we went to school together and spent time together playing around the neighbourhood. I have particular memories of a New Year’s Eve party at their place, watching the wondrous new phenomenon, TV, and also of the father carrying me home when I’d gashed my leg on a bicycle. I’ve recently reconnected with the woman from this family who was my childhood friend.
Neighbours at the back of our house were a couple without children and the husband worked for the railway. They used to take us on weekend outings in the car, when each time we crossed a railway line, the men (Dad & him) would say “pull up the railway lines and sack all the men”. What a strange thing to say….I’ve never figured out why! This family taught me a little about growing different flowers including dahlias. Another neighbourhood family used to occasionally have singalongs around a pianola. It wasn’t necessarily the case that neighbours were those who lived only a door or two away from your home, but those in a broader area but who were also not specifically friends.
An elderly single lady lived across the road from us when I was probably under 12. She was very kind to me, sending me postcards and embroidered handkerchiefs from around the world when she went on international trips. She also gave me my first experience of ballet, taking me to see a performance of Swan Lake, presumably at Her Majesty’s Theatre.
When we lived in Papua New Guinea neighbours were very often also your mainstay of support, friendship network and ersatz family. We supported each other with our young families, baby-sat, had dinners, Christmases and birthdays together, shared the excitement of new babies and many other things. It made for very close supportive friendships which we maintained for many years though distance and death have reduced the number of these links still in place now.
As we’ve moved through the past 25 weeks of this series, and I’ve looked through those early photographs taken with my little Kodak camera, it becomes very apparent how important early neighbourhood relationships were in our lives. However I can’t share those photos here without permission from the people involved.
I’m reminded of that saying that there are friends for a reason, a season or a lifetime. I suppose the same can be said for neighbours and perhaps explains why some of those links establish, survive or wilt over time. Has the concept of “neighbours” changed since my childhood? I don’t think the concept itself has, though perhaps the linkages and dependencies are less and the geographic proximity has probably narrowed to mean only those living adjacent or very close to your own home. In many cases people are very self-sufficient, perhaps not needing to share facilities like phones, cars etc as we become more affluent.
A major difference compared to my childhood, which was perhaps unusual based on the 52 weeks’ topic of “home”, is that people are far more mobile, often spending less time in one house and relocating across much greater distances. Under these circumstances I think it is really only the natural friendship relationships which are maintained long-term between former neighbours, while other links fade and then disappear with the relocations. Despite this there’s much to be said for simple interactions with those who live near us, even if it’s only by a smile and a hello, and to offer help when it’s needed. It’s easy to forget that such simple measures can mean a great deal to a neighbor who is feeling displaced, lost or needing help in a time of need.