My neighbors are an odd, tight-lipped bunch, especially when it comes to money. They’ll plow your driveway, then hem and haw in your doorstep as you dig out your checkbook. “Only doin’ you a favor, Seeing as how it’s Christmas, Just happy to help.”
But if you don’t pay them, then they’ll talk to other folks about your tight fist. And they’ll keep on plowing your driveway out of habit, so I guess it depends on how much you care about gossip. My mother does care: She made the mistake of taking our neighbor at his word once when he refused payment, and she’s never lived it down. Now she gently insists, but how much is enough? I doubt anybody told her, so she’s just been guessing these 19 years.
They don’t talk politics either, unless it’s football politics. A non-voting man’ll chew your ear for hours about Tom Osborne’s career and Bo Pelini’s tactical offensives. All you can do is make favorable comments about the Huskers as you write a hurried check, shoving the paper into his hands, hoping he doesn’t look at it before he leaves.
Years ago a neighbor working his field found me crying in my mom’s west pasture, with one foot in a fieldmouse den and the other in an anthill, screaming as the red army swarmed along my clumsy limbs and into the soft home of four pink newborns. They writhed in agony, and I did the same, guilty and ashamed of bringing such horror upon a peaceful family. The man climbed through our electric fence and carried me, still sobbing, back to my house.
“This where you live,” he said. It wasn’t really a question. I nodded, and he set me down just outside the front gate.
“It’s alright now.” That was the end of our exchange. He didn’t ask where my folks were or what I was doing, and he didn’t tell me the mice would be ok. He just turned around and walked back to his crop, and I knew he was a good neighbor.