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Good Afternoon

The neighbors we never knew, and a new beginning

Street in North Bellmore.

Street in North Bellmore. Credit: Fred Schramm

In February, an elderly couple moved out of their Cape Cod home across the street in North Bellmore. We saw the for-sale sign go up in September. There was lots of activity, with Realtors and customers going in and out. One day in January, the sign read, “In Contract.” Not long after, I saw the couple’s adult children carrying things out of the house on moving day. Then their furniture was loaded into moving trucks, while another crew filled another truck with junk.

Although the family was there even before we moved to the neighborhood 40 years ago, we never knew them, except to occasionally wave hello. They would go about their business, not seeming to want conversation. A next-door neighbor said they liked to keep to themselves. Other neighbors never mentioned them, so I’m assuming no one really got to know them.

Still, I felt some regret.

People in modern life seem so busy scurrying about that they hardly know their neighbors.

I think of others on the street who have moved away and died. They would have loved to learn that the 17-acre military base adjoining our neighborhood — sold off after the first Iraq War in the 1990s — finally has 70 luxury homes. This last bastion of the Department of Defense in North Bellmore had lain silent with weeds for two decades.

Many Long Island neighborhoods contain similar cross-sections of people. People are people, the same everywhere. There are talented people consumed with careers, stay-at-home mothers with children, retirees, widows and widowers, eccentrics, those who have fallen on hard times or have disabilities. Each neighborhood is a microcosm of the world.

Some neighborhoods are known for camaraderie. This was true when many Long Island blocks were first built and settled after World War II. Young mothers had kaffeeklatsches and helped watch each other’s children. Today, some neighborhoods still close off a street with police help once a summer for block parties. Families contribute food, money or games. Everyone has a role in these little worlds.

Yet some neighborhoods lack soul. They seem nondescript, places where homeowners happen to live in proximity. Many work in the city and come home to sleep. That’s why Long Island is called a bedroom community. I suppose if a neighborhood is quiet, with few disruptions, and there are no criminal activity in drugs, prostitution or burglaries, then we should count our blessings.

After the departure of the elderly couple, a young couple bought that house. My husband and I walked over one day when they were outside. The husband and wife both work and have a young child. We shook their hands and told them if they need anything, to ring our bell.

We are glad we made this small gesture. A neighborhood becomes more of a community this way.

Reader Gloria Schramm lives in North Bellmore.