Pet sitting for old friends who live next door, playing your weekly bridge game with the ladies in the neighborhood, shoveling the sidewalk of the elderly couple down the street, watching your next-door-neighbor’s children for the afternoon, sipping a lemonade on the front porch of your neighbor’s home. Do these scenes conjure up memories of your old neighborhood? For many senior adults, the answer is “yes.” Older adults hold a special affection for home and family, community and neighbors. As you prepare to celebrate Older Americans Month in May, you can honor the role of neighbor with your group. Ask: Did you grow up in a close-knit, caring community? Could you go next door to borrow a cup of sugar? Describe your neighbors when you were growing up. How did they become a part of your family’s life? Which ones were memorable and why? In what kind of neighborhood did you raise your children?
Many older adults grew up in small towns and farm communities and learned to value the gift of good neighbors. Here are some activities to stimulate memories of their times together.
- Show photographs of old houses with front porches. Ask participants: What role did the front porch or stoop play in socializing with your neighbors? Why was there a decline in front porches after World War II? (Consider: suburbia, carport, TV) Enjoy lemonade and cookies as you reminisce.
- Share recollections about Welcome Wagon, which delivered baskets of gifts from local businesses to new homeowners. Ask if anyone ever served as a hostess. Has anyone ever been the recipient of a home visit from a Welcome Wagon hostess? Ask the participants to name the items they would want to put into a welcome basket for new residents in your facility. What else could they do to welcome new people there?
- Show photographs of a typical 1940s small town: Main Street with movie theater, corner drugstore, barber shop, church, variety store, neighborhood grocery store, beauty shop, hardware store, used car lot. Discuss the advantages of small-town life and the benefits of knowing your neighbor and the “locals.”
- Ask participants who grew up in a rural setting to give examples of “neighbor helping neighbor” in a 1940/50s farm community.
- Share old copies of the Saturday Evening Post, featuring the art of Norman Rockwell. Ask: What image of small-town America did Rockwell portray in his art? In your experience, was the portrayal accurate?
- Reminisce about neighborhood activists and volunteers. Share recollections of 1950s neighborhood associations or civic clubs in the suburbs. Ask: Did you ever lobby for a new park, a traffic signal, or street repairs? What motivated you to work to improve the services of your neighbors and to build a better community?
- Ask participants to explain the meaning of the phrase “Keeping up with the Joneses.” Role play a “Keeping up with the Joneses” scenario: You’re a 1960s husband and wife in a middle-class home in suburban America. The next-door- neighbor has just come home with a new color TV. You’re stuck with the old black- and-white set!
- On a lighter note: Encourage your group to reflect on neighbors and news. Ask: How did your family hear or read about news of your neighbors? Examples: party-line telephones; small town newspaper’s social column; talking in the barber shop or beauty parlor; talking across the back fence
- Share memories of neighborhood gatherings and social events: pool party, garage/yard sale, potluck, Christmas caroling, Tupperware home party, bridge group, backyard barbecue, 4th of July picnic, Friday night poker game.
- Watch a popular Frank Capra film. Examples: Mr. Deeds Goes to Town or It’s a Wonderful Life. Ask: What does the movie say about small-town family values?
- Play a card game from a neighborhood get-together: whist, pinochle, canasta, bridge, or rummy. Ask if anyone ever belonged to a card club.
- Compile a list of suggestions for good neighbor etiquette, e.g., Return items that you borrow promptly.
- Discuss the old adage “Good fences make good neighbors” (See Robert Frost’s poem “Mending Wall”) and other neighbor proverbs.
- Sing or play recordings of some songs about friendship: “Dear Hearts and Gentle People,” “Those Were the Days,” “That Old Gang of Mine,” “Auld Lang Syne.”
SITCOM NEIGHBORS TRIVIA QUIZ
Ask group members to name a well-known neighbor of the following sitcom television families.
- Lucy and Ricky Ricardo (I Love Lucy) – Fred and Ethel Mertz
- Dennis Mitchell (Dennis the Menace) – George and Martha Wilson
- Ralph and Alice Kramden (The Honeymooners) – Ed and Trixie Norton
- Wally Cleaver (Leave It to Beaver) – Eddie Haskell
- Rob and Laura Petrie (The Dick Van Dyke Show) – Jerry and Millie Helper
- Ozzie and Harriet Nelson (The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet) – “Thorny” Thornberry and Doc Williams
- Jed Clampett (The Beverly Hillbillies) – Milburn and Margaret Drysdale
- The Stone family (The Donna Reed Show) – Dave and Midge Kelsey
- Chester Riley (The Life of Riley) – Jim Gillis
- George and Louise Jefferson (The Jeffersons) – Tom and Helen Willis
THOUGHT FOR THE MONTH
“He that can have Patience, can have what he wills.” ~ Ben Franklin
“NEIGHBORS” written by Sue Hansen. © 2007 ElderSong Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.
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