Remember when we grew up living in the same area and never moving? We grew up, got married and invariably ended up living close to the same area where we grew up. Now, not only with the military, but in many circumstances, people very frequently move for job opportunities or other purposes. Remember what it was like when your old neighbors grew older in your old hometown?
Growing up in Cleveland, Ohio, living in the same house all my life until I left for college, I realized the older people in the area, plus the church next door, called my father whenever “help” was needed. And it didn’t matter what kind of work.
It was always “Call George, he’ll come and help if he’s at home.”
My father worked swing shifts as an electrician at a steel mill, but he was often available at any hour of the day or night. He was an electrician at work but a “jack of all trades” at home and in the neighborhood. The family had been a part of that particular neighborhood since the very early 1900s, and by the time I became aware of what was happening, my dad was a member of the third generation of the family living there.
Everyone knew him. He kept track of everyone who was, basically, older than he was. If he didn’t see “Aunt Alma” or “Uncle Art” or “Grandma Jones” while he was out, he’d go and check on them. It was only after it was determined that George couldn’t help in a particular situation that emergency services or some other professionals were called in.
Dad was the neighborhood guardian, peace-maker and handy man. The neighborhood would not have been the same without him. This kind of situation took place in all the neighborhoods where families lived for generations and knew each other. They knew who to call for help and who would come.
Living, and aging, in a mainly mobile world now is quite different, especially around a military community. Your next-door neighbor may have moved in just last week. The whole neighborhood may have turned over in the last five years. The family of a military member may be there, but the service member could be anywhere in the world.
You may have moved into this neighborhood because you followed a military family member who is now stationed somewhere else, but you stayed because you felt it was better to stay “at your age” than to move on again. There is no “George” in your neighborhood that you know. The only option you have when you need help is to call in the professionals. You call “911” even if you feel confident yours is not an emergency. You may have developed a relationship with a plumber, a car repair person, an electrician or some other kind of professional in the short time you’ve lived in the community, but you don’t really want to call them and have to pay for an “emergency visit.”
The mobile lifestyle the younger generation has adopted has led to a situation where help is not readily available from the person living next door. Someone who wants to age where they have retired must figure out a lot of solutions to common problems. Perhaps, with a little outreach, they become the “George” of their neighborhood.
Now, when you are a military retiree or spouse, you’ve become accustomed to having to move frequently, meeting new people, establishing new relationships, learning about new military installations and neighborhoods. You make friends, enjoy each other for a couple of years, and then each of you moves on to re-establish somewhere else.
This happens in civilian life now, too. No longer do young folks grow up and stay “in the neighborhood.” They, too, move on. It is only when you retire and decide on a permanent location that you begin to feel “at home” and get to know your neighbors — if they don’t move on.
When you’ve been there for more years than the normal tour, you become the permanent “George” when the neighbors get to know you. Staying somewhere long enough to become the steady force in the neighborhood has a lot to say for it. This takes effort, reaching out and helping others make the neighborhood feel more like family than strangers just moving in and out.
Even when you’ve lived many years in a neighborhood these days, it is constantly changing and makes reaching out more difficult. But even as you are aging in place in that neighborhood, reaching out to the new, younger crowd is what is going to make you feel like you are finally at home, where you can grow older and not regret moving to the community.
Joyce Mayer is the senior recreation program director for the City of Harker Heights. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.