Webster defines a neighborhood as: “the people living near one another or a section lived in by neighbors.” Webster also gives an interesting definition of neighbors: “To be near or next to by a fellow human being.” In today’s fast moving and changing society the concept of a neighborhood seems to have gone away with ideas of family owned neighborhood stores and an area where everyone knew and cared for each other.
Today’s neighborhoods seemed to be isolated individuals who are either too busy or have no interest in associating with human beings that happen to live near by. Small neighborhoods seem to be eaten up by larger organizations or associations that dictate regulations to people they don’t know. In neighborhoods of our past people had a general understanding of the trials and tribulations, whether personal or societal, of their neighbors. They always took these realities into account when they interacted with them. Children knew their neighbors and these same neighbors made sure the children were watched over and kept safe.
Now being considered elderly I remember many times in my life when I was part of a neighborhood. My first memory of being a part of a group of people who I cared for and cared for me was in the outskirts of New York City. I can’t really call it the suburbs because back then neighborhoods consisted of pockets of people that were small cities of people who did not want to live in the insanity of an insane city.
I remember this place as being extremely clean with merchants making sure the sidewalk in front of their businesses was swept and during the winter snow free with plenty of salt covering the concrete so no one would slip and thus get hurt. Like I previously stated people cared for each other.
My uncle Louie owned a fish store that filled his shiny white ice filled display with fish and shellfish from a few blocks away. The cases were packed full of fish, shellfish, and giant lemons in the morning sitting on broken block ice. I don’t think refrigeration was used back then especially for keeping fish fresh. By early afternoon his entire stock was depleted because everyone relied on my uncle to supply them food for their families. I used to love sitting aside one of the smaller cases and watch neighbors come in to buy and sometimes just check on Louie to make sure all was well.
There were many other merchants in the neighborhood where everyone knew each other’s name. Every one of them seemed to have a specific type of merchandize. There were fruit stores that had their wares displayed in giant windows covered with hand painted signs stating prices. Most had many of their wares located on the street because back then the concept of theft simply didn’t exist.
I don’t think bike locks existed because all the kids of the neighborhood just lied their bikes down on the curbs in order to visit friends or buy some candy at the local apothecary. There was a main street but many of the stores were dispersed throughout the neighborhood. These consisted of cobblers, I wonder if anyone remembers what those are, ice stores, garages with gas pumps, self-service, by the way was driving up to the pumps, and, of course, the multiple five and dime stores that pretty well sold everything. I could never understand why they called them five and dime because since that was the most I ever had in my pocket, I could only afford baseball cards and candy. Everything in the store cost at least a dollar.
Today, I am saddened to say I know few of my neighbors or my neighbor’s children. I always try and wave to people when I drive down the road but few wave back because they probably don’t know who I am. There are no stores I can walk to in my neighborhood because they are all clustered in centers or malls that are manned by people who have no idea who I am or where I come from. It seems the only time I find myself with a group of neighbors is during a meeting of a neighborhood association looking to rebuild something most of us have little use for. Arguments usually entail with people leaving angry because their needs are not the needs of their neighbors.
Webster defines a neighborhood as, “the people living near one another or a section lived in by neighbors.” I am saddened by this loss of neighborhood in our modern society. I am also dismayed that my child and grandchildren’s neighborhood is now condensed into a computer they all have in their hands.
Do neighborhoods exist anymore?
By Jim Fabiano a retired teacher and writer living in York, Maine USA.
You can contact Jim at: firstname.lastname@example.org