Thursday, June 12, 2014

Neighbors' Departure Brings Mixed Emotions

(From the June 12, 2014 issue of the Grand Haven Tribune)

It was a visual definition of mixed emotions. I walked out my front door and saw two UHaul trucks at adjacent neighbors’ houses. One was at the home of a neighbor who, to put it charitably, should have moved long ago. The other was at the home of neighbors who have become really good friends and were expected to always be here.

Neighbors, in some ways, are like family. You can’t exactly choose them. Some you like and seek opportunities to spend time together. Some you acknowledge cordially. Some you avoid.

One neighbor, the one who should have moved long ago, was for a season on the neighborhood association board. In that position he alienated most everyone in the neighborhood. Since leaving the board he has kept mostly to himself. It’s not worth wasting time discussing this neighbor other than to say his departure brings relief.

The other neighbor moving is a source of sorrow. We vividly remember when they moved in 11 years ago. One conversation started a solid friendship. We had many chats in the street, spent time together at home and at various favorite locales in town. We watched their kids grow up.

They had talked for several years about moving to Florida. Then several months ago they told us about an opportunity they were going to accept down there. The planning began. It seemed unreal. But last week it became all too real. My wife helped organize and pack. On a long Saturday I helped load that UHaul truck. In early evening we chatted in the street, like always. But this was different and odd and sad. We were saying goodbye. We were actually saying goodbye.

With truck and car and kayak trailer secured, we went through a bizarre ritual dance in the street. There were hugs, and then crying, and then a joke and laughter to cover the fact that we were crying. And then a hug, and it started again. Eventually someone had to break the cycle. They had to get in the vehicles, and drive away.

If you ever talk to someone who lost a spouse or a parent or a child who lived in the same home with them, you hear about the odd emotion after their departure. Sure, our good neighbors and friends did not die. But the emotions are the same. It’s hard not to look at the house, ponder its emptiness, and ask if they are really gone. We hear a noise and look expecting them to be there. Or we look at the house in a certain angle and vivid memories of an interaction come roaring to the forefront of our minds. Our shared moments play on the screen in our heads in short clips, as moving movie trailers of memory.

It occurs to us that the neighbors we love are as important to our sense of home as the furniture, decorations, and landscaping we select. But this is more. When we come home now, it is different. It is sad. A part of us is missing.

We joked that this neighbor might be like yet another family, who moved to California several years ago. We were sorry to see them go also. But, almost one year later to the day, they moved back. They decided they missed Spring Lake, and in particular our neighborhood. Just recently we talked to this neighbor as she was walking her dog. She missed the relationships, the values, even the seasons. Their old house had sold, but they bought the one two doors down. It was hilarious and joyful to welcome them home. We laughed that the neighbor next to them might think he was losing his mind, having seen these neighbors to his east for several years and then after a one-year absence sees them to his west.


Unfortunately, we doubt the neighbors who just moved to Florida will be coming back. Boomerang neighbors are probably a rare phenomenon. But we can keep in touch. We already are. We’re planning a visit to maintain the relationship that started across the street even though it’s now across the country. Meanwhile, we can be grateful for the other good neighbors who remain around us, contributing to our sense of home.

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