This is a copy of the article I wrote for the May 2017 edition of "Voice of the River Valley."
Whether you live in town or in the country, you have neighbors. They may share a hallway, a driveway, a street or a block with you. Or they may be next-door neighbors in a country sort of way. Maybe they share your opinions or maybe not. No matter what kind of neighbors you have, they are there. During this time of extreme political polarization, neighbors have new relevance for me. I don’t think it fair or correct to insinuate that we are more neighborly in the Driftless Area than in other regions, but I realize that neighborliness is part of our culture. Relationships with neighbors have shaped and enriched my life in many ways.
I grew up on a dairy farm in Wilson Creek just north of Spring Green. In our valley being neighborly was expected. On occasion we borrowed a cup of sugar and in turn lent one back. When it came time for me to start school, two neighborhood high schoolers took it upon themselves to watch out for a shy 5-yearold on the rowdy bus. As a result I felt safe each morning as I sat securely between them on my way to kindergarten.
Mom drove us around the neighborhood for trick or treating. At many places the only lights were shining from barn windows since everyone but the farmer was out doing as we were. He would pause milking for a few minutes to admire our costumes and then point to the bowl of candy in the milk house before switching a bucket from one cow to another.
An old neighborly custom was shivareeing honeymooners. Sometime shortly after you were married, you could expect the neighbors to show up — maybe riding a flat hay wagon and sitting on straw bales — obnoxiously banging on pots and pans until you, the newlyweds, came out and joined them. Then it was a party. The neighbors in Wilson Creek still get together for birthday parties, graduation open houses, the Weidner family’s Fourth of July parties and now an annual Gay Pride Parade. And there are impromptu get-togethers in the driveway when one neighbor stops by and then others driving by follow suit to talk about the weather or deer hunting or a new baby or the crops. Or maybe even politics.
Bill and Ed catching up.
Neighbors offer support in tough times, too. When corn fodder in my uncle’s barn started a fire that burned it down, so many neighbors showed up that the road was almost impassable with cars. Some helped the firefighters contain the fire, some moved the cows, some brought food, and some just came to bear witness and show concern. Even though the throng of people created its own challenges, we all accepted that we needed to be there.
Now my husband, Bill, and I live in another valley named for the creek running through it, Byrds Creek. It, too, is full of good neighbors. In the days after our children were born, they stopped by with meals. They’ve pulled me out of a snowy ditch, lent us their skid steer when our relic didn’t start, and called when they saw our goats eating the flowers. Neighborliness is a relationship of give and take, so we do our part by feeding the neighbors’ horses when they go on vacation, collecting a wild swarm of bees out of a neighbor’s lilac bush, and donating our handcrafted soaps and lotions to a local scholarship fundraiser in memory of a neighbor. And a few years back a barefoot neighbor stepped out of his warm house to photograph the sparkling ice on the trees. His locked door swung shut behind him. It was a belowfreezing morning with a biting wind chill, and his wife was gone to work. He grabbed two rugs from the porch and used them to walk the eighth of a mile to our house. Bill got him a blanket, thick woolen socks, and a phone to call his wife. We all dreaded to think what might have happened if we hadn’t been there.
And there’s Ed who lives down the road and worries that neighborliness is a dying art, going the way of shivarees. He believes it’s our responsibility to look out for each other. As he says, “You never know when you might be the one needing a favor.” A few winters ago when Bill hurt his knee, and we were short of wood to heat our home, it would have been much colder without Ed. Unbeknownst to us, he was keeping an eye on our wood pile. When it got low, he, along with another neighbor, showed up with firewood!
photo of Shelby, our Jersey cow by Aidan Meyer