Fred Rogers would have celebrated his 95th birthday on March 20. I wasn’t a “Mr. Rogers kid”; I grew up watching Romper Room. Mr. Rogers Neighborhood was for my younger siblings, but it was hard to escape his influence and his theme song, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”
My mother-in-law, Stella, also turned 95 on December 28, and then sadly, died two days later. During her funeral home visitation hours, coincidentally in Latrobe, also the birthplace of Mr. Rogers, many of her neighbors came to pay their respects. My mother-in-law lived in her home on two acres in Derry, outside of Latrobe. until last May when she fell. Although she was wearing one of those medical alert bracelets when she fell, she landed on her arm, and it took her several hours before she either regained consciousness or could summon the strength to push the alert button and call my sister-in-law.
As my mother-in-law lived over an hour away from my sister-in-law or us, my sister-in-law called the next-door neighbor and an ambulance. At the funeral home, we found out from the neighbor that it was she who arrived on the scene first, cleaned up my mother-in-law, changed her clothes, stayed with her, and let in the paramedics. Her neighborliness was touching, and we thanked her profusely for her kindness.
A few weeks later, I went to a relative’s bridal shower. As the bride began to open a gift, she stopped to acknowledge the gift-giver. “This is from Mrs. Perkins, our neighbor,” she said, singling out a small white-haired woman. “How old are you?” The bride asked. “Ninety-four,” the elderly woman replied. The bride, who is 35, turned and said to everyone. “Mrs. Perkins is my buddy. Poor thing, she’s heard about every boyfriend I’ve ever had from second grade on.”
In her novel To Kill a Mockingbird, writer Harper Lee wrote, “You can choose your friends but you sho' can't choose your family.” For the most part, you can’t choose your neighbors either. In most instances, like a mortgage, they come with your home.
We’ve all heard horror stories about the “neighbors from hell,” but neighbors often can be just as important as family. They can be first responders, confidants, babysitters, and best of all, friends. I’ve been blessed to know many wonderful neighbors and consider them not only people who live nearby but my friends.
Good neighbors are the unsung heroes of society. As I was thinking about this, I wondered if there is a day to celebrate neighbors and there is. National Neighbor Day is celebrated on September 28. I also learned that there is a National Sneak Some Zucchini Onto Your Neighbor’s Porch Day.
As spring arrives and you’re out and about in your neighborhood, take time to appreciate the good people who live around you. But a word of caution. You may want to skip that zucchini day if you want to remain friends with your neighbors.
By Janice Lane Palko