Living in a rural community vastly differs from town living and is a world away from urban living. I have never lived in an urban setting, and I will openly admit I have no desire to do so. Don’t get me wrong; I take no issue with urban dwellers; it’s simply not a setting where I can see myself being happy or thriving. There was a brief moment when I was in my twenties when I thought I might live in Philadelphia or D.C. to procure a teaching position, but that time was brief. The press of people, noise, pollution, and hustle don’t appeal to me.
For almost two decades, I lived in the small town of Brookville. Living in a small town setting was lovely. I loved my old Victorian home. I enjoyed having food delivered to my doorstep. When The Bean was an infant, we walked the hills and streets of the little historic town and made friends with the business owners on Main Street. We conversed with familiar faces around town. People have always been drawn to The Bean. When she was a baby, she was the most adorable creature to walk the face of the earth. I may be mildly biased. Many of the residents of Brookville were on a first-name basis with her and greeted us on our daily walks. It was a lovely little town, but as one rude, outspoken Brookville native colleague pointed out to me as she waggled her finger and called me “Cookie,” I would always be an outsider, and my children would remain outsiders. When I considered this woman a “born and bred Brookvillian,” I thought perhaps being an outsider for the remainder of my days was not such a bad thing. Despite being considered an outsider, I enjoyed small-town life for the most part.
When we lived in Brookville, we knew who our neighbors were, we would smile and wave, perhaps share an idle comment about the weather in passing, but we were only close to two of our neighbors—one of those being one of my former students. We did not share a strong sense of community. Moving to the farm, our interaction with others became even more limited. Seven families live on Tonkin Road. We cannot see any of our neighbors from our house, and we like it that way. Of these seven families, we are what I would consider close to three of them. Close as in, we know their families well, the ongoings of their lives, and have deep conversations. The difference with our little neighborhood on Tonkin Road is that we could call on any of our neighbors if needed, and they would help us, and we would do the same for them.
We make an effort to be good neighbors. We also adhere to the saying strong fences make good neighbors. When we have it on hand, the Bibbed Wonder delivers a gift of his pasture-raised pork to our nearest neighbors. He usually prefaces his gift with, “I wanted to give you a few pounds of, insert: bacon, sausage, bratwurst, or pork, to thank you for being understanding. With animals, it’s only a matter of time until they get out of the fence and end up in your yard. We appreciate you not shooting them.” Sigh. His delivery is honest but leaves a lot to be desired. To date, his well-built fence has kept everyone where they belong, and nobody has eaten anyone else’s shrubs or flower beds – thank goodness. Each Christmas, we try to deliver personal gifts to our close neighbors and soap to all our neighbors. Some years I am better at delivering than others. Eric is much more useful than I am. He can run equipment, pound posts into the ground, haul things, etc. I sometimes deliver meals, mow grass, check on things if someone is out of town, or bury dead pets. We do what we can when we can and try to be there in times of need.
I prefer our relationship with our rural neighbors over other living situations. I like that our neighbors drop in to visit while they are on a family walk. I like that our neighbors drop in for a porch visit or to request a favor. I like that most of us wave to each other when we pass on the road and share a smile. It’s comforting to know we have a small circle of people who we can count on to keep an eye on The Bean or our pets. Our nearest neighbor calls to let us know that Chubby, our senior pitbull, is sitting by their campfire for the evening, or a pig is building a nest across the creek as far away from the barn as possible, or a baby goat is alone asleep in the pasture field.
I appreciate that our neighbors call or text if they see anything suspicious. They keep an eye on strange cars lurking on the road or see someone walking who isn’t part of our neighborhood. Our neighbors have no problem questioning people who they fear are trespassing during hunting season. Our rural neighbors have reported people seen dumping garbage along the road or vandalizing mailboxes. Our road has a built-in crime watch. We all look after each other, and there is comfort in that.
I feel a greater sense of unity in a rural community. We aren’t engulfed in each other’s business, but we understand that we are there for each other should there be a need. I like being on a first-name basis with my neighbors. I enjoy feeling like I belong to something bigger than just my little piece of land. Feeling a sense of belonging is uncommon in many neighborhoods. Often, people come and go, and there isn’t an opportunity to get to know someone. On our road, most of the families have been here for decades. There is comfort in that consistency.
Call me naive, but I believe our world would be a gentler and kinder place if neighbors took the time to get to know each other. I’m not encouraging being nosey or intrusive, but to be on friendly terms, know each other’s children and pets, recognize vehicles, offer a hand shoveling snow, mow grass, do small favors, or small acts of kindness once in a while creates a sense of unity. Being on friendly terms with someone makes it easier if a conflict arises. As with everything, being proactive rather than reactive is a good thing.
Stay safe, be smart, practice being a good neighbor, and keep washing your hands.