Won’t You Be My Neighbor

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WENDY HODGE

By WENDY HODGE

This morning, around 3:30 a.m., when I could not sleep and found myself standing in the kitchen reading a magazine by the glow of the light above the stove, I heard a mournful cry. Drifting on the wind that had brought in yet another rainstorm, came the sound many farmers would call a lullabye… the sound of at least a dozen cows mooing at the moon. 

Can you imagine that? Cows talking to each other right here in the middle of town. 

There is a farm one block away where the cows live. The humans dwell in a huge house with a wraparound porch and a hay bale at the entrance of the driveway which sports a sign that changes with the seasons — an Easter egg this time of year, the American flag during July, and a proud orange and blue War Eagle for the entire football season. 

Just beyond the farm house and around the curve in the road is a house that sits on top of a hill. I am told this used to be the clubhouse for the original golf course. Apparently long before Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail came to town and Opelika was blessed with our very own Grand National course, these acres in our neighborhood were THE place to play “the gentleman’s game.”

This home now is owned by a very gracious couple who put up welcome signs with an arrow pointing straight up their circular driveway every year at this time, inviting everyone to drive through and see the many dozens of azaleas that bloom on the property. They line the drive like southern belles with their hoop skirts of blooms and sway slightly in the breeze. We have driven through so many times now, just inhaling the scent and taking picture after picture. It’s a delicious assault on the senses, all of this beauty covering those couple of acres like a blanket.

Our own house, one block away, sits on what used to be hole seven … which explains the slope of the ground and the abundant grass that feels like a carpet beneath our feet. From the backyard, you can hear the babble of a creek that bisects the neighborhood, and trees are everywhere you look. 

There are young families in the neighborhood and older retired couples. And there are people like us – living somewhere in between grade school car-pooling and the freedom I’ve been told retirement will bring. People have pets and ride bikes and take power walks and afternoon strolls. We all greet each other with friendly waves and remarks on the weather and how our own gardens are doing this year. 

The man a few houses down from us can often be seen standing in his front yard, his cat on a leash, staring off into the distance. Pondering what, I wonder? Perhaps waiting for the sound of the cows

The neighbors directly behind us happen to be my employers. They are the perfect neighbors – always there if we need them, but never nosy or intrusive. They have shared tomato plants that keep us in Sunday morning BLT’s for the entire summer. 

To the left of us is our “Walmart couple.” They both work at the same Walmart here in town and are often seen with their blue vests on, climbing out of their car at the end of what I can only imagine to be an incredibly stressful day. But they are always smiling and pleasant. Their small dogs, Freddie and Reba, run across the road into our yard every chance they get because they know I cannot resist rubbing their furry bellies. 

On the other side of us is a couple with a full house — a sister and a grown son or two who live on the various levels of the house. They have loaned us sugar, and we have loaned them eggs. Their dogs and ours pretend to hate each other, barking viciously every time they spy each other over the fence. But when no one is looking, they wag their tails at each other and long desperately to jump that fence and hang out like the humans do. 

Across the street is a single man who keeps vigilant watch on the comings and goings on our street. He isn’t menacing in any way, but he is vigilant. “There was a white car that slowed down in front of your house this morning,” he will report when he and Tim happen to meet at the mailbox. 

“Yeah, that was daughter’s friend looking to see if she was here,” Tim will answer. 

And then they will compare their job woes and the latest basketball game and promise to get together for a beer soon. 

It is comforting to know we have someone looking out for us. 

And there’s the neighbor Tim refers to as “2404”… as if he is an inmate in a prison camp. 2404 is a solitary kind of guy — no visitors, no pets. It is rumored there was a girlfriend once, but she has “disappeared.” Occasionally 2404 will be spotted in the yard, mowing the grass or tending to his lone azalea. He never waves when we wave first, and we have long since given up trying. None of the other neighbors know much about him and don’t seem to particularly like him. “He’s just not … neighborly,” Mrs. Walmart neighbor said to me once. I don’t mind him, though. He is constant in his lack of concern for the rest of us, and somehow that seems quite reasonable and appropriate, even reassuring. 

There’s the house on the corner with the politician who just won a local race, and down the street is a lady who used to work at the city library. She was the person to give me my very first library card, and she gave one to my children too. One street over is a couple who go to the church my parents always attended. They’ve known me and my family for decades, and they wave as they walk their dog several times a day. 

And there are so many more families in homes on streets radiating out from our spot here on hole seven… folks who live here and love this area and are genuinely kind to each other and to us. 

And so, this morning at 3:30 a.m., I listened to the cows and smiled to myself. If I have to be awake at such an unholy hour, I cannot think of a better spot to be standing in — hole seven/our house where all is safe and well. 

And … just maybe … I heard the ghostly echo of a “Fore!” mixing in with the “moos”….

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