lifestyle

"Before you buy a house, meet the neighbours."

It started before we even moved in.

On a February day two years ago we went to look at a house for sale on a leafy street. She was a modest, solid-brick dwelling putting her best foot forward. The sun was blazing and a crepe myrtle tree overhanging the front deck was burgeoning with deep pink flowers.

“I like this place,” said my husband. And so did I.

“I’m going to talk to the neighbours,” I said.

“Really?” he said, rolling his eyes.

I’m an extrovert. Don’s an introvert. And then there was the small matter of our newborn daughter strapped to his chest in a sling. He wanted to go.

Last time I tried this trick in a neighbourhood nearby, it didn’t work out so well. A man with black teeth, a bull terrier and a packet of Winfield Blues shoved underneath the strap of his singlet came to the door. He looked like a caricature but was, in fact, a real person. He eyed me suspiciously; he wasn’t a talker.

Rap, rap, rap. I knocked on the door and Liz opened it. She smiled at me as if she’d been expecting me all along.

“Come in,” she said, taking me down the hall and introducing me to her two boys.

“You’ll love this street,” she continued, “all the kids play together.”

Liz started pointing left right and straight ahead, naming all the neighbours.

“We have happy hour once a month,” she added, showing me back out to the front door.

By this time, Don had gingerly made his way onto Liz and Nick’s driveway.

“Is that newborn baby?” Liz asked with obvious pleasure. When we nodded our sleep-deprived heads, she asked for a cuddle.

“I’m a midwife and a nurse,” she told us.

best things about neighbours
Ginger Gorman with husband Don, and neighbours Rach, Liz and Dim.
ADVERTISEMENT

Just 18 months later it was this – Liz’ excellent nursing skills – that would rescue me. In the frantic distraction and exhaustion of late afternoon witching hour, both children were screaming. I cut part of my index finger into the mashed potato and passed out on the kitchen floor. In a panic, Don called Liz. She arrived seconds later with a first aid kit and incredible calm. Liz bandaged up the wound and put pressure on it until the bleeding stopped.

But I’m skipping ahead. We bought the house with the crepe myrtle tree and moved in two months later. Liz was right. We do love this street.

Life wasn’t easy in the years before we came here. I survived cancer. My beloved father died from it, leaving an aching hole where his wisdom used to be. We moved to Queensland for work and became isolated from friends and family. Don was unemployed. My job was relentless and stressful in the extreme.

After our first daughter was born in 2010, the black dog struck me down. Mothering was harder than I ever could have imagined. I wanted to be good at it, but always felt I’d failed.

Although things were better by the time we had our second baby girl, it never completely disappeared. There were still days when the world was closing in.

The families on our new street were never too far away.

best things about neighbours
“My gorgeous neighbour Tomiko with her baby Sabine. They are relaxing on my back deck.” Image supplied.
ADVERTISEMENT

It was Rachel and her husband Dim who invited me for wine when I’d had a bad day – or a good one. We laughed about the ridiculous social politics in a town like Canberra.

With her wicked sense of style, Rach lent me clothes to wear to various work-related functions. She gently talked me down from emoting about the baby weight I couldn’t seem to shake.

It was Tomiko who listened to my shaky ramblings when my employer put me into a “hunger games” redundancy pool last year with three of my long-time friends and colleagues. The betrayal, humiliation, despondency. How could they even consider ranking us against each other?

It was Graeme who took Elsa for a long play date with his daughter, Minty, when it all felt like too much.

The children on this street do play together. Not infrequently Rachel steps outside her front door and yells: “Who has got [her daughter], Ruby?”

Sometimes on a Sunday afternoon all five families have eaten together in one of the backyards, bringing along whatever food and drink is in the fridge. The kids careen around, throwing water bombs. They laugh and yell. It’s loud.

Don built enormous vegetable beds and a chook pen in our yard. Even now, it still delights me to hand fresh zucchinis, a bag of lettuce or half a dozen eggs over the fence.

There’s nothing better than a child turning up on the doorstep with a bucket of chook scraps and asking for a fresh egg in return. A parent is cooking and needs one or two.

A fresh egg is where I’ll leave this – a smooth, oval weight in the palm of your hand that speaks of a new beginning.

Ginger Gorman is an award winning print and radio journalist, and a 2006 World Press Institute Fellow. Follow her on Twitter here.

FROM OUR NETWORK
00:00 / ???