As Tom Hanks zips up the red cardigan that will transform him into the iconic Mister Rogers when “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” debuts on the big screen before Thanksgiving, he will remind us that it’s nice to be neighborly.
Fred McFeely Rogers was very nice, and very neighborly.
The American television personality, musician, puppeteer, writer, producer and Presbyterian minister who died in 2003 was most famous for creating and starring in the popular preschool television series Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood (1968–2001). He showed kids that being neighborly was cool. He showed their parents that being neighborly was good for their children.
I grew up with parents who believed that, as well. My childhood neighborhood was my world. My two sisters and I were besties with the kids who lived next door or on the next street. We hung out with them at lunch time at our neighborhood elementary school. During summers we played together in each other’s houses and backyards from morning until night. When our parents wanted us to come home they simply called out our names from the porch. We were happy, and we felt safe. It was personal, and it was fun.
As I became an adult and started my own family, the traditional neighborhood structure that I grew up with began to disappear. We said hello to our neighbors, usually from our cars as we were driving to work, but we didn’t hang out with them. I socialized with my co-workers and my children socialized with the kids from school or their activities who lived farther away.
Then, with cell phone texting, the internet and social media, it became possible to connect with everyone everywhere. My childhood neighborhood structure seemed outdated. I didn’t need the people next door.
Or maybe I did.
I was reminded of the value of good neighbors when I moved to Glenburn Townhip in recent years. There is a core group of genuinely good people here in my neighborhood who look out for one another. We still wave to each other from our cars as we are driving off to work. We respect each other’s privacy. But somehow, in a few short years, we have become friends.
More than that, we have become family.
I have pointed out my neighbors’ phone numbers, posted on my refrigerator, to my children as emergency contacts. My neighbors and I have laughed together and have mourned our losses together. Since my mother’s recent passing they have been there for me with plenty of food (thank you, Alyssa and Margaret), plenty of consoling words and shoulders for me to lean on. And they’ve even provided transportation for me (thank you, Nikki).
During the big mid-March blizzard a few years ago, Bernadette sent her husband, Paul, to dig me out of my driveway when there wasn’t a plow to be found for days.
Alyssa always baked a tray of homemade holiday cookies for my Mom’s Christmas Eve dinner. My mother appreciated the cookies and the sentiment attached – Christmas Eve was Alyssa’s mother’s birthday. This will be the first Christmas Eve without my Mom, but Alyssa insists we should respectfully continue our holiday tradition, with her cookies still part of it.
As Alyssa recently said of our neighbor friends, “We make each other feel safe, we make each other feel we are not alone and we make each other know they are loved. Thank you for all you do and how strong we are together.”
Teri Lyon is a mom, grandmom and freelance writer who lives in Glenburn Township with her cat.