Our neighbour two doors down is moving. By nature, we are all nosy neighbours (admit it!) and when someone on your street is moving, you want to get a barometer for how much you could potentially sell your own house for, right? The owner happened to be out cleaning her garage while our family was walking home from the park, so we stopped to chat.
We have lived in the neighbourhood for 7 1/2 years now and this was the first time we ever spoke to this neighbour! We had a really nice conversation – this woman definitely needed empathetic ears. She’d lived in Iran through the war before moving to Canada. There were family circumstances that necessitated a rush sale of this house. She still hasn’t found a new home for herself. To top it off, her son was just in a serious car accident (he’s fine) and as a result, she didn’t have a car to get to work the next day. She seemed very grateful to have such nice neighbours to listen to her, but we’ll never talk to her again! (By the way, we never did find out directly from her what the house was listed for; it’s probably bad etiquette to come right out and say it, so she encouraged us to drop by for the next Open House.)
It’s unfortunate that this will be the extent of the relationship. In the rush of our daily lives, we live in a Hello-Goodbye world and at least in the suburbs, where I live, I blame it on the disappearance of the Front Porch.
Not more than a generation ago, the “neighbourhood ” was a tight-knit social network. Block Parent communities abound to protect all the kids in the neighbourhood. Neighbours actually knew each other by name (and yes, neighbours knew a lot more about each others’ business). And I suggest it is all because of the Front Porch. In our part of town, a relatively new 12-year-old subdivision, houses do not have front porches, and the landing to the front door is set so far back from the street (because driveways eat up the real estate in front of the house) that you couldn’t be seen or have a conversation with someone walking or driving by.
The Front Porch is the gateway to neighbourly conversation. It beckons to its owners to “Sit awhile, relax, watch people go by, talk.” The houses in our subdivision cry out, “Avert all contact! Drive straight into your garage, close the door behind you and do not even think about waving to anyone.”
We’re lucky: we managed to become good friends with quite a few of the neighbours on our street without the benefit of a front porch. But front porches do open up the opportunity for more impromptu gatherings, conversations and gossip. In the age of Facebook and handheld devices, we have forgotten about how important human contact is.