Neighborhoods: The Microcosm of Nations


Along about 1958, my small hometown’s city fathers wound up green-lighting a land developer’s proposed, subdivision housing project. It is unclear whether or not all the involved parties knew this but, that region’s acreage was (and still is) prone to flooding.

By 1961, my father and mother were hoping to flee our slumlord’s (literal) rat trap, two story hovel… one heated by a poorly maintained, coal fired, carbon monoxide spewing furnace… the likely cause of our family of four’s chronic, debilitating, flu-like symptoms. Indeed… our very lives were at stake.

It’s easy to see how my parents had so easily gotten suckered into signing on the dotted lines of a 30 year mortgage. And so, by June of that same year, we had moved into our new, three bedroom ranch… located smack dab at the bottom of that aforementioned, flood prone, subdivision gully. As things turned out… we’d have been far better off buying a houseboat.

By 1968, our entire neighborhood wound up becoming one of Michigan’s lesser known (not so great) lakes… its (fortunately temporary) shoreline stopping at the first step of our two steps high front porch. While only our cellar had flooded, our next-door neighbors to the east had not been so lucky. Their basement, living room and kitchen had been inundated.

The obvious moral to the story: Never make major purchases in haste.

Of course… there’s also a secondary lesson to be learned. And that begins where my above story leaves off…

Subsequent to that nearly biblical magnitude flood, my Dad had figured out how to keep future floodwaters at bay… i.e., by caulking basement windows and encasing them in window wells… by forming a two foot high, clay berm along our eastern property line. While lacking aesthetics, his practical solutions not only worked but have continued to do so… outliving him by 30 years (and still counting).

Regrettably, our neighbors had opted to turn the task over to the professionals, whose “prettier” approach to floodwater management proved nowhere near as reliable as my amateur Dad’s strategy.

There were more floods to come, too… sometimes requiring our neighbor’s patriarch… sans permission… to chop into my Dad’s defensive lines with a shovel to save his home. To put it mildly, my father was PO’d. Had any of their flood water entered and damaged our home, there’d have been hell to pay. Fortunately, that hadn’t happened… BUT… nonetheless… over the years, several adrenaline surging, heated verbal exchanges did ensue.

Fortunately, my folks did understand that our neighbors were only trying to protect their own property. But, what Dad could never fathom is why they’d not shore up their property more effectively… instead of endangering both of our homes.

By 1988, with floodwaters threatening, once again, our neighbor, with shovel in hand, cut across our property line. Of course, by then, with my 75-year-old father’s health rapidly failing, he just didn’t have much fight left in him. With the sound of the pouring rain on the roof, my heart sank at the sight of my father seated at our dining room table… cradling his head in his arms… the personification of despair. All he had wanted out of life was to secure a good life for his loved ones.

Although I hadn’t known it at the time, Dad had been mere days away from his oneway ambulance trip to the hospital… his too little / too late, ill-fated surgery… his death.

I can only hope that ugly, irreconcilable neighborhood war had not been the final fade to black scene within his mind.

So… what does any of this really mean? Well… here’s where that aforementioned, secondary lesson starts to unfold… starting with several questions…

Are not interfamily conflicts a microcosm of the international variety? Is it not our survival instincts and our territoriality what sparks battles between neighbors and nations? Does not the malfeasance and/or ignorance of leaders also trigger corrupt and stupid wars at both of those societal levels… and the others in between?

But… on a more positive note…

Are there not also a few kindhearted, courageous people out there who’ll meet their adversaries more than half way… oh… say… by extending the olive branch?

It might be of interest to you when I mention that my family’s longtime foes wound up making that peaceful gesture. Totally taking me by surprise… 15 years ago… they showed they cared enough about my well-being to pay their respects at my Mom’a memorial service.

In all honesty… long before that moment… I had grown weary of feeling “duty bound” to my folks… to… in their memory… continue slogging through all that metaphorical, stormwater muck… drowning in the oceans of figurative, bad blood which had persisted, interminably, between next-door neighbors.

Folks, I had been wrong, Wrong, WRONG and quite the fool to ever deem it too late to fill the miles deep emotional chasm between us… one that had run miles deeper than those paltry six inch deep trenches, which my neighbor had sliced into my father’s property line berm.

My neighbors and I are now good friends. I thoroughly enjoy their company and treasure our conversations. Their nonagenarian status affords them a wealth of life experiences and a robust philosophy of life. I find all I’ve learned from them refreshing, enriching and inspiring. My only regret is that my family… that I had not made peace with them half a century sooner.

As for my final Q…

Is not an amicable resolution to erroneously perceived, irreconcilable differences within a neighborhood also a microcosm of all the good that could happen upon our world stage? We can only hope that is true… that my wonderful friends and neighbors… are a microcosm of any and all bold, kindhearted, peace seeking leaders, spanning our entire globe.