When I was growing up there was quite a cast of characters in our neighborhood. I grew up in a suburb of Chicago where people were from all over. We had neighbors who were Italian, Greek, Slavic and a little bit of everything. There were older couples with grown children, young families with lots of kids, and families who were somewhere in the middle. There were those who traveled, some played golf, or softball or hockey. There were more boys than girls, mothers and fathers, a couple grandparents…no one was single. Most of the mothers were stay at home Moms, yet as I grew older that began to change. There were Catholics, Baptists, Episcopalians, Methodists, Nondenominationals and those who did not endorse any particular religion. 

There was always a high premium on beautful yards. Flowers and cut grass, trimmed hedges and sometimes a vegetable garden. Fathers started the process, then as the kids got older they were taught to groom the lawn to the fatherly standards. There were cook outs and street hockey games, holiday parties and Fourth of July hamburger feasts. Kids ran through everyone’s yard playing flashlight tag or kick the can. We caught fireflies and ran around with someone’s dog always trailing behind. 

Everyone knew when you were doing something you were not supposed to be doing…which usually ended up with a phone call to your Mom. When you got called inside using both your first and middle name you KNEW you were in for it. Some Moms called you in by dusk, others set a specific time. My Mom didn’t want us to pretend not to hear her call, so she got a huge bell and rang it…the sure sound of the end of a wonderful summer day. Once that bell rang everyone had to go it, no one could pretend they didn’t hear it. 

I look back on my childhood with fondness. It was a wonderful place to grow up. We knew our neighbors, who really were our friends. We all were striving for basically the same thing – healthy and safe lives, raising children who were honest and had a good work ethic while providing for their needs.  Some parents were strict, others were lenient. Most parents cared for you even if you were not their kid, they watched out for you or gave you a ride home when it was raining.

It wasn’t until I was older and my parents had moved away that I learned the other side of the neighborhood. I heard about the couples who got divorced, the partner having an affair with someone else is the nieghborhood, the father that beat his wife and kids, the man who lived a seperate life when he was on the road, the teen who wound up on the wrong side of everything, the mother with an eating disorder, the financial failures and the never ending anger.  Those things happened all around me and yet I never saw any of it. I suppose a child’s persepctive is a simple one…the more sorted and complicated things of life easily go ignored.

There must be a cast of characters in your life. People you live near and people you know in your neighborhood. I encourage you to let the gossip go ignored and focus on the wonderful things your neighbors supply. Enjoy where you live and who you live near. Every cast of characters has good and not so good, spend today focusing on the good. Your neighbor may be the one to help you fix that flat tire or cut down a tree. They know just as much about you, and they call you friend…extend them that same courtesy!