Philip Gulley: Annoyance Next Door
I’ve lived in my house longer than I’ve lived anywhere else, and I like it so much I never want to move. It isn’t an exceptional home. People don’t slow down to look at it as they drive past. The best thing about living here is the one thing never listed on the sales sheet when a house goes on the market—I have wonderful neighbors.
Most of our neighbors have lived here as long as we have, accept my eccentricities with good humor, and over the years have become my friends. I’m not one of those persons content to wave to my neighbors when I see them mowing their lawn, but otherwise ignore them. I want them as friends. I realize they didn’t move into their houses seeking friendship, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be included in the deal. When I was a kid, grocery stores gave dishes to their customers, a new piece each week. I’m like the free gravy bowl. My neighbors didn’t move here for the express purpose of getting me, but I became part of the deal and now they’re stuck with me. I’m their friend whether they want me or not.
While I’m pals with all my neighbors, I do spend the most time with Brian, my neighbor to the north. If the vagaries of real estate hadn’t thrown us together, we never would have met. He loves professional football and knows all of the players, I think the NFL is the axis of evil. He doesn’t attend church, I pastor one. He thinks Donald Trump has several good ideas, I think if Trump had a good idea, it would die of loneliness. Despite these glaring differences, Brian and I have become great friends.
Being close with Brian requires fortitude. When my mother-in-law passed away in 2009, I gave her 1979 Ford Granada to him. I didn’t have room in my driveway and Brian did. He said I could come over and sit in it anytime I wanted. The car only had 30,000 miles on it, so I was counting on it being around a long time. Three weeks later, Brian sold it to a man in Greenwood for $3,000. A lot of friendships wouldn’t survive that kind of treachery, but it was so like Brian I wasn’t the least bit surprised. Whenever I’m away on business, Brian texts me at 10 p.m. to tell me how silky my bedsheets are. A lesser man would have given up on him years ago.
When people describe their friends, they say something like, “I could call him any time and he’d help me.” I would never say that about Brian. He ignores my texts and hides in his house when I come over to ask for help. I can see him through the window as he yells, “No one’s home, go away.” When a tool is missing from my garage, he’s the first person I suspect. If I were to write Dear Abby, she would advise me to unload Brian as quickly as I could. But Brian is my gravy bowl. He came free with the house, and I’m stuck with him.
My best friend from childhood, Bill, is moving back into his family home across the street from me. Unlike Brian, Bill loves helping people, so I’m looking forward to being neighbors with him. In addition to being helpful, Bill’s also a plumber. I have several plumbing emergencies a year, so it will be handy having Bill nearby. If an electrician moves into our neighborhood, I’ll be set.
Come to think of it, most of my neighbors have useful vocations. I get free legal counsel from my lawyer neighbor, building advice from my construction manager neighbor, and automobile advice from my mechanic neighbor. I’m always ready to offer free pastoral or theological advice, but none of my neighbors seem to want it. None of them have ever asked me to explain the finer points of Anabaptist Christology, for instance. Not that I know the first thing about Anabaptist Christology, but it would be nice to be asked.
My neighbor Joe retired from teaching recently. I’ve known Joe since I was 6 years old. For some reason, we tend to think the people we’ve known the shortest time are smarter than the people we’ve known forever. It’s probably because we’ve seen the people we’ve known forever doing more dumb things than the people we’ve only recently met. So you can imagine my surprise when I bumped into several of Joe’s former students who told me what a wonderful teacher he had been. I’d always assumed he was the same dingleberry I knew when I was 6. He thinks the same thing about me, by the way.
Only one of my neighbors has resisted my efforts at friendship. I drop by his house once or twice a week around suppertime and offer to join him for a meal. I sit on his front porch in the evening, and when he comes out to see what I’m doing, I invite him to sit and chat. When he has his family over for a pool party, I pull on my swim trunks and join them. (There’s nothing like a pool party to bring people together.) I go out of my way to be friendly to him, but nothing seems to work. I guess some people are so introverted that making new friends is impossible for them. It’s a good thing I’m persistent.
We had some new folks move in down the street this past summer. I don’t know why, but no one seems to stay very long in that house—two or three years at the most. When they move in, I visit them frequently, almost every day. In the summer, more often than that. So it isn’t like we don’t get along. But after a year or two, they mention they might be moving, that they’re being transferred, or found a great deal on another house, or want a bigger yard. Sometimes they don’t even tell me they’re moving. I walk over there one day to see them, the house is empty, and I never hear from them again. I don’t even see them move. It’s as if they disappeared in the middle of the night.
It has been said that good fences make good neighbors, which means you have to understand boundaries. So respect your neighbor’s privacy, but still be there when they need you. For example, just last week, my neighbor Brian found out he had herpes. I can’t share the details because I’m a minister and can’t repeat things Brian told me in confidence. Boundaries, remember. Anyway, I went over to sit on his porch, just to let him know I cared.