I feel that America would be a much better place right now if we all knew our neighbors the way people seemed to when I was a kid.
Seven years ago, I realized that I live among strangers when I received a phone call at 5:50 a.m. The caller I.D. said it was Minnesota calling. I was asleep when I jumped up and ran to the kitchen phone. I was really confused as to why the state was calling me when the tax deadline was seven months away. I have no idea why I assumed it was about my taxes at that time of the morning. When I answered the phone a lady asked if it was my residence, I started waking up a little and said, “Yeah?”
Then she said, “This is the sheriff’s department . . .”
Then she paused for a really long time—long enough for me to picture my husband dead on the side of the road as the result of getting into an accident on his way into work. My heart sank and I said, “Oh my gosh! No!” My head started spinning as I tried to grasp what had happened.
Then the lady finally said, “Do you own horses?”
I immediately pictured my husband slamming his car into a horse standing in the middle of the road. I slowly said, “No?”
She said, “Well, there’s a bunch of them in your yard.”
I reacted with relief that my husband was still alive, then with concern that someone was sitting just outside of my front windows watching horses gallop around while I was standing in full view in my pajamas and messy hair. I then reacted with skepticism as I wondered if this was some kind of early morning prank call of the Is your refrigerator running? variety. I didn’t think it was very funny and I thought the lady sounded too old to be joking around like that. I was so confused.
The lady asked, “Do you know who near you does have horses?” My brain hurt as I tried to think of neighbors’ names that early in the morning. Most of my neighbors aren’t that neighborly. When we first moved to the country in 1994 we introduced ourselves to the neighbors within a couple miles of us, which wasn’t very many at the time. I can still rattle off the names of those neighbors, who were very friendly. When new houses started filling the fields around us in the early 2000s, we initially went and introduced ourselves and brought Christmas cookies as a welcome to the neighborhood gift. We weren’t very well received by our new neighbors so we stopped doing that as new houses continued to pop up, old neighbors died and were replaced by new ones, and neighbors that we knew moved away and were replaced by people we didn’t know. So, unfortunately, I no longer know most of my neighbors—which strikes me as odd, because I knew all the names of my neighbors for about a five mile radius when I was growing up in the country. So to be given a neighbor quiz that early in the morning was really stressful.
I failed the quiz as I struggled, “Um, there’s a ranch just down the road. Simon’s the last name.”
The lady said, “Yeah, but what’s the first name?” I told her that it starts with a J. She sighed in an irritated tone. I thought, Wait a minute missy, I’m the one that’s irritated by the near heart attack you gave me and now this horse-owning neighbor quiz! Then she asked, “Any other neighbors with horses?”
I answered, “I’ve seen a couple horses in the front yard of a home about a mile to the east, no, the west.”
“Neighbors to the west of you have horses?”
“Yes, to the west.”
“Alright, what is their name?”
“I’m sorry. I have no idea.” I heard it once when my neighbor across the road told me about meeting him when she was walking on the road and she said that he was really strange and that I should stay away from him, but his name was French sounding and I can’t remember foreign words very well. I told her that I knew the name of the former owners who had moved to town in case that helped her come up with an address.
She said, “Alright what is the former resident’s name?”
Then I drew a blank because I kept thinking of the kids’ first names who my two kids were still good friends with, but I suddenly drew a blank on the last name. “Umm. I’m sorry, I can’t think . . . it’s early. . . wait, um. Let’s see . . .” I pictured a beer mug. “Stein! It’s Stein. It was the Steins who lived there at one point.” I suddenly became concerned that because of the lady’s reaction to me she might have thought I was drunk.
She sighed again and said, “I see.” Being that she was in the sheriff’s office I was concerned that they would send in whoever was sitting in my front yard to give me a breathalyzer test. I really started waking up and realized that it’s not illegal to answer your home phone when you’re drunk—which I wasn’t. I just don’t know all of my neighbors’ names. So the lady said she was sorry that she bothered me so early and thanked me for trying to help. I lied and said that I was alright with her 5:50 a.m. heart attack inducing, brain stressing, guilt-provoking for not knowing my neighbors call. I hung up and looked out the window. There was no sheriff and there were no horses in my yard.
I was really confused and wondered if I had been dreaming. I did know that I was feeling so relieved that my husband was still alive that I decided to call him on his cell phone while he was driving into work to tell him that I loved him. He sounded worried when he answered the phone. It really concerned him to get a call that early and he wondered what had happened. Oops, I didn’t even think about what time it was. At least I didn’t ask him if he had horses in his car and what our neighbors’ names are.
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© 2017 by Julie Ryan. All rights reserved
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