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A Changing Neighborhood Brings Memories and Thoughts About the Future

by on April 30, 2018 5:00 AM

The signs have been popping up like dandelions. In the past several weeks, several neighbors have made the decision to sell their homes and move. Last week, our next-door neighbors of 28 years packed their stuff and moved closer to family in the Harrisburg area. Another couple pulled out of the driveway behind the moving vans over the weekend. On our street of 14 houses, there are two more signs advertising houses for sale.

The evolution of a community within a community. The changing face of a neighborhood.

We moved into our house in 1990 with an 8-month old baby in tow. Our house was among the first built on a street that, at the time, dead ended into a corn field. The draw of the acre-sized lots and room to grow our young families pulled us from other areas in the region and, in some cases, out of town. It took several years for the street to fill in. We watched empty lots turn into construction zones and new neighbors. Six of the 14 are still the original owners.

In the early days there was community. Annual summer picnics and holiday parties. Friday nights at one of the houses were a frequent and fun way to end the week. The husband worked their restaurant on Friday nights so the moms and kids would all make our way over there. Sleepovers for kids at neighborhood friends’ houses. Snow days when school was canceled and kids would play outside together all day. Scuffles at the bus stop or on the kickball field. For one or two summers, there was even a structured game night each week where all of the families would gather at one house for kick the can or flashlight tag. The occasional adult happy hour on someone’s deck.   

Our kids grew up together and we all watched out for each other. We returned the dogs who ran away back to their owners. We made casseroles if a family had a loss. We attended graduation parties under tents in backyards.

We watched each other’s houses when someone went on vacation. I remember one night we were out with friends, and Mark from next door came over to alert our babysitter (a teenager from down the street) that there was a weird acting critter wandering around the yard.

According to the research on our relationships with neighbors, neighbors are generally right beyond family and friends in the concentric circles of our social networks. For many, especially older people, neighbors are not only a source of social interactions but for safety and a safety net in emergencies.

Social connections brought together by proximity. The common thread is our location.

Our neighborhood has had its bumps. When we bought our lots, we knew that the land immediately adjacent was scheduled for development and an eventual link to Atherton Street and the other neighborhood across the cornfield. With fears of through-traffic, we asked the township to keep our street a cul-de-sac. The length of our street and concerns of access for emergency vehicles meant a big fat “no” for that, but they did put in a slow-down circle. (The cut-through traffic is annoying but not as dangerous as we anticipated).

Then, there were the divorce years. It seemed like every week there was another family splitting up. For a time, we wondered if it was something in the water. Families broken and “for sale” signs in the yard.  Change came in other forms too. New jobs taking people out of the area. Moving out to downsize because of empty nesting or retirement.

At the peak of the school, friends and activity years, our house in this neighborhood was pretty cramped.  That 8-month old little girl eventually welcomed a sister and then a brother. We watched some of our friends build new and bigger. We resisted, knowing that eventually our three would move out and move on. We resisted leaving our neighborhood. Our three did eventually move on. With only two of us at home now, it sometimes feels like this house more than we need. I am hesitant to leave the neighborhood and the memories of this street and of this house. I am sad because I know it will eventually happen.

Last summer, my daughter was asked to be in the wedding of one of her best friends; the girls grew up on this street, four houses apart. As we sat at the reception with other families from our neighborhood, we chatted about old times. It brought back so many memories of connections and neighbors and shared experiences. The neighborhood.

With warm weather on the horizon, people with be out in the neighborhood. It will be a chance to introduce ourselves and perhaps invite our neighbors over for a drink on the deck. Moving vans and move-ins may mean a plate of cookies and a welcome. Welcome to the neighborhood.

Patty Kleban is an instructor at Penn State, mother of three and a community volunteer. She is a Penn State Alumna. Readers of State College Magazine voted her Best Writer of 2010 and 2012. She and her family live in Patton Township. Her views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State.
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