Last month police swarmed a house on our block, hauled a handful of teenagers to jail and filed drug-related charges.
The tipster revealed himself when we ran into each other that weekend. This is a man who lives nearby and has known my parents for years, even though he doesn’t know my husband and me well.
He said he had been watching that house for quite a while and had warned police that if they didn’t do something about the suspicious activity, he would. With children on our block, we didn’t need that (bleep) in our neighborhood.
“You know what I was going to do?” he said, nudging me with his elbow. “I was going to call your dad and have him trap some skunks for me to let loose in their garage.”
This town is an hour from the nearest mall and any statistically important violent crime. A big talker the year we moved here was a series of car break-ins, notably on our street. It came to light that many of the victims had left their purses and valuables inside unlocked cars parked near the street.
We’re finally forced to lock our doors, decades behind the rest of the world. But we’re pretty lucky. The kind of crime that tops the evening news doesn’t usually happen here.
What’s the secret? Maybe it’s that neighbors care about one another. A friend down the block once called to tell me that a suspicious person wandering the neighborhood had entered our backyard. We weren’t home, but when we pulled up, she and her husband marched over and helped us check the garage and all the shadowy crevices of the house. We paid it forward and called some other neighbors.
Another time, our next-door neighbor rang, concerned because the kids hadn’t been playing outside on a warm day.
The incidence of crime is famously low in small towns, but I believe a neighborly spirit can improve any neighborhood, regardless of city size.
We lived in our Kansas City house for several years before we moved to our small town. We were former apartment dwellers who had spent years keeping to ourselves. Privacy seemed the norm in the neighborhood where we bought our first home. I didn’t realize that we were part of the problem.
I rolled my eyes when the man who lived across the street hollered from his lawn chair.
“All I see is your car pulling up the driveway, into the garage and the door going right back down,” he grumped.
All I saw was a meddler who had nothing better to do than sit in his driveway and complain. But while we were cutting ourselves off from the neighborhood, he was inviting me to his driveway as he and his wife enjoyed the fireflies.
He had lived in his home since the neighborhood was built in the 1970s, and he knew that the only way to get to know people was to sit outside and talk to them. That benefited us the time he closed our garage door after we forgot, even as he chided that anyone could have walked off with our lawnmower.
We rarely made that kind of effort. We skipped the picnics sponsored by our homeowners association. We eschewed a membership to the tiny neighborhood pool. After some nearby break-ins and car thefts, I did attend an anti-crime meeting. But we kept pulling the car in and slamming the garage door.
Our small-town home has a front porch, and my kids are the sentinels. They yell down the street when friends return home from their days out. We watch the trash truck and the neighbors’ remodeling projects and the cars that park in nearby driveways.
We pay attention when one doesn’t belong. I am comforted to know that others are watching, too.