Howdy Neighbor

Television has always incorporated neighbors in their situation comedies, sometimes shown as friendly, sometimes shown as competitive, and in some TV situations, neighbors are wise counselors as in "Tool Time."

What is your neighborhood like? Do you lean across the fence and visit? Does your neighbor drop in for coffee or perhaps a cold drink on a hot day? Do you greet each other on the way out the door in the morning? Maybe your neighbor waters your plants, feeds the fish, and watches the house or apartment while you're on vacation. If this is the case, you probably have a very social neighborhood and enjoy the area where you live.

But chances are you don't know all your neighbors. We have become an isolated society with television, computer games, and the Internet consuming our time. Our family rooms contain 5-Disc CD players, DVD players, televisions, computers, etc.- all individual pursuits - or possibly family activities, if everyone is at home. What happened to the pick-up ball games, shooting basketball in the driveway, and conversation?

It's time to meet the neighbors!

Throw a neighborhood picnic! Summer is the perfect time of the year for large get-togethers. With just a limited amount of planning, you can have fun in your neighborhood some evening or Sunday afternoon. This is not a new concept. Back in the 50s and 60s, neighborhoods held block parties, backyard barbecues, and most of your home parties included at least 2-3 families close by. Take some pointers from the past and get started.

1. Find an ally. Chances are you are on speaking terms with at least one neighbor. Get together and set a date and time that would be convenient to most. Sunday afternoons or Saturday evening may work. (Remember - not everyone will be able to come no matter what date is chosen).

2. Decide the extent of the neighborhood. Some people have the philosophy that the whole world is their neighborhood. This concept will not work in this situation. Start with a 2-block radius, or the apartment dwellers on your floor. In rural areas, maybe a mile each way would be the extent of your neighborhood.

3. Since you are the planner, you will need to choose a spot for the picnic. If you do not have a backyard available, is there a park in the neighborhood? An empty lot? A meeting room in the apartment building? Decide where.

4. Decide on what style of picnic. Will you be grilling and everyone should bring something to toss on the grill? A potluck? Delivered pizza and everyone pays a set price? (Potlucks are great because everyone gets to bring their favorites and the food is varied). You may want to provide something to drink - coffee, lemonade, and water. A big tub filled with ice and soda pop - strawberry, orange, root beer or grape - is a wonderful treat for the kids - and also adults with a sweet tooth. Will you provide table service?

5. You will want to provide some sort of games for the children and a place for conversation for adults. If you are in a park, bring along a ball and some bats. Pick-up baseball can be played with almost any number. Kites are always colorful and fun in open places. Encourage people to bring lawn chairs.

6. Compile a list of names and phone numbers. Divide this up with your allies and start calling. A friendly chat with someone new is better than an impersonal card in the mail. You can also answer additional questions, such as: "Can I bring my dog?" Be prepared with your answers.

7. On the day of the picnic, post signs so people know they are in the right place. Balloons or colorful windsocks draw attention and create a festive mood.

So pick up the phone with enthusiasm and start calling! Many enticing questions can be answered at these gatherings. Why does the Johnson family have all those lawn ornaments and what's with that salmon colored door? Why do you never see anyone come out of that big house on the corner? You'll learn where people work, how many children (and grandchildren) they have. Maybe someone is from your hometown or you may possibly meet your next best friend.

The rewards of this endeavor can be long lasting. You will wave to people on the street and they will wave back. On your walks, you may stop to chat for a while. You may receive homemade cookies if you are sick and you will be concerned when neighbors face tragedy. Your neighborhood will be safer because now you care what happens to others.

As a wise neighbor once said: Do not protect yourself by a fence, but rather by your friends.