Wednesday, August 08, 2007

National Night Out attracts neighbors

Last night was National Night Out Against Crime, and our neighborhood in Salem was one of the ones that participated by holding a block party.

Actually, a several-block party. The neighborhood association invited people from several blocks around to participate.

We all gathered at the end of a dead-end street, threw down a few lawn chairs and plastic tables, and shared a few dishes among our neighbors. Kids ran after each other in the street, adults introduced themselves to each other, and representatives from the local police department gave tips on how to protect us against crime.

We were assured that our street was one of the safer areas in town. Not all of us felt that safe, knowing of a few thefts on our block within the last three years. These ranging from a house break-in where a large number of tools were stolen, to someone stealing a few solar lanterns from someone’s driveway, to cars being stolen.

This morning, we woke up in time to see the neighbor across the street had his yard toilet-papered by possible vandals or friends: streams of paper all over a tree, ripped up chunks all over the lawn. We were a bit unsettled to know that we had calmly slept through it all.

We’ve had our share of suspicious activity, but when compared to other neighborhoods, this seems to be one of the luckier areas to live.

Advice from police

The police officer advised us all to keep an eye on our streets, lock our doors, register our bikes with the city, be careful with our valuables, and never leave unlocked vehicles idling in our driveways.

It’s sad, really, that we need such lessons. I think of how life is different from when I grew up on a farm where we encouraged to keep doors unlocked in case a neighbor visited us for something and we weren’t there to help. The neighbor could find that cup of sugar in the kitchen, tools in the garage or even borrow that vehicle for an emergency trip. All we asked in return was a quickly jotted note left on our kitchen table explaining where and why something had happened — and often there were such notes.

Vehicles were left unlocked with keys in the ignition. Part of it was because we were constantly on the go, and you never knew who would need which old pickup or grain truck at what time and for what purpose. Rather than wasting time scrambling for hidden keys, we just jumped in the vehicle we needed and headed for our destination.

Changing times

But as I listened last night to the list of what to do to protect property, I thought about how crime has begun to hit our farm and so many others. We have had various things stolen. We don’t trust strangers as much when they come to the yard. We lock our doors. We’re suspicious of why people ask us certain questions.

Back to life in the city: how was the event last night?

It served its purpose. We discussed crime and its prevention, but we also admired or sympathized with people’s projects in their yards and homes. We borrowed ideas from each other. We shared recipes and tips on raising kids and pets. And we plotted how as a community we could catch the raccoons, skunks and squirrels that seem to enjoy our areas as much as we do.

We heard how three big raccoons have terrorized cats and dogs, chewed on sprinkler heads, enjoyed snails and fish from ponds, and generally made a nuisance of themselves yet successfully avoided all our efforts to trap them.

Time to leave

As the evening ended and people began to fold up their chairs and wander down the street to their homes, someone mused how it would be great to have these events more often and not just once a year.

In rural areas, there are fowl suppers, dances, weddings, funerals, local school graduations, bingo nights or local drama events that tie a community together. Everyone gets to know their neighbors for miles around.

In a city, sadly, we often don’t even know our next door neighbors.

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