This all started because of the skunks. One recent early morning, just after my husband let the dog out to our backyard, he spotted a skunk by our gate. He went out to retrieve our dog before she got skunked, and then he saw white stripes moving along the back fence. Was it a different skunk? Same one? Most likely a different one. All this was enough to know there was a skunk situation.
He got the dog inside the house (fortunately), and I started the texts—to a neighbor I’ll call First Neighbor, whose backyard abuts ours. We talked skunks and other wildlife creatures we had seen. He mentioned his family had installed an outdoor television and asked: was it bothering me? I hadn’t even noticed it, but I so appreciated his asking. I thought about how kinder the world would be if we always considered our neighbors, and I thanked him for doing just that.
Then I asked First Neighbor if he had the contact information for one of our other neighbors—a family who moved in a couple of years ago, but whom I had only talked to briefly once or twice. They also live practically next door. First Neighbor did in fact have the phone number for Second Neighbor, so I started texting with him. We texted about skunks but also about jobs and how old his kids were. Now we had a little context for each other.
Later that morning, I ran into Third Neighbor on the street—I see her fairly often. Had she seen the skunks? We talked about that but also about the property across from mine. It was owned by a wonderful woman who died a month ago. Third Neighbor asked if I knew what was going to happen to the house. I told her I did not know, but we exchanged phone numbers in case I heard anything.
Years ago, when I moved into the neighborhood, four of my closest neighbors were seniors, all widows. I knew them all and liked them all. I felt safer knowing they were there, and they would sometimes tell me stories of things that had happened to one or another neighborhood family over the years, or about some funny incident that had happened on our street. Eventually, one of my dear senior neighbors moved away, and then a couple of years ago, another dear one did. The two seniors who stayed each had big hearts and gentle souls, and I felt grateful that they at least were still here. Then, at the start of 2020, one of them died, and now the other has. It was difficult to lose them both in the span of less than six months, and I feel the empty space they left behind. Both were neighbors that I talked to. One, especially, I chatted with often, and we exchanged plants, and I bought her jam and she made us bread. I miss seeing her—I miss seeing all four of them—and I miss knowing so many of my neighbors that well.
But then, the skunks came into our yard the other day, and by the end of it, I’d been in touch with three of my neighbors, one with whom I had never had more than a two-sentence exchange. Now we had had a conversation. I told my husband sure, we had skunks to deal with, but ultimately the skunks had made my day a good day. They’d brought me a little closer to my neighbors.
Shuly Cawood is a writer who lives in Johnson City. Her latest book, A Small Thing to Want: stories, was just released in May.