Won’t You Be My… Freighbor?

fred rogers town

Remember when Mr. Rogers used to look right through the television and sing to us, “Won’t you be my neighbor?” Yes! Except knowing what I do now, I kind of wish Mr. Rogers had substituted freighbor for neighbor.

There’s a difference between neighbors and freighbors, you see. Neighbors wave hello. They might buy cookies from your girl scout once a year or pet your dog. Freighbors on the other hand…they open the door and let you in.

The first time I heard the word, it sounded like some hazy middle space between a friend and neighbor. But I’ve come to embrace Urban Dictionary‘s most popular definition, which  defines a freighbor as both a friend & neighbor.

Honestly, if it weren’t for my first freighbors, I might never have seen Mr. Rogers.

Lucy and Eva were sisters who lived down the alley and around the corner. The proximity made for an easy friendship. We played at the nearby park, built dams in the creek, climbed rocks. We had elaborate adventures with our dolls. We learned to put our faces in the water and blow bubbles together.

And while my family had woods and a puppet stage, Lucy and Eva had a television. My parents may not have believed in television, but Lucy, Eva and I did. They’re the ones who introduced me to the wonders of the small screen, including Mr. Rogers. (Yes, my parents eventually broke down and purchased our own small set. They say it was coming but I credit my freighbors.)

I know my parents valued their neighborhood friendships as well. Our extended family lived out of state, so when my parents wanted a get-away, they left me with Lucy and Eva’s family. After my own home, it was the place I knew best. But like so many good things, this too had to come to an end. The summer before first grade, Lucy and Eva moved. It was my first heartbreak.

Freighbors, you see, hold a special place in the friend continuum. They become, by virtue of their closeness, our everyday people. As children, they’re our go-to’s for a quick game of catch or a bike ride to the corner store or one last bounce on the trampoline before bedtime.

As adults, we meet them on the other side of the fence, as their children bike by and look curiously at ours. We encounter our future freighbors at bus stops, block parties, and walking our dogs. The relationships often start slowly, with a borrowed book or cup of sugar, a short walk together. We keep an eye on each other’s houses when the other’s out of town.

The friendships grow. We find ourselves visiting on the front steps after the kids have begged for 15 more minutes of play. It stretches into an hour. We suggest a cookout, and they come. We watch each other’s pets, start carpooling.

Freighbors make our own fun. We rotate houses and kids during snowstorms. When the power goes out on one block, we crowd into the house that still has power. One family brings melting ice cream and frozen burgers, another shares cold drinks and a warm house. Some freighbors even vacation, share holidays and mark milestones together.

They are often our go-to people in a crisis, because sometimes we need the person who lives RIGHT THERE. Neighbor-friends watch our children when we need to get to a hospital, fast. They deliver food in bad times and take our kids after school. They stop by with chocolate or a bottle of wine and sit and talk to us when we most need it. They don’t care what our house looks like; whether we’re wearing make-up or the same pants from yesterday. We see each other too much to care about such things. Freighbors are not company; they are our people.

That is why it’s so very hard when they leave the neighborhood. Lucy and Eva were my first freighbors to move, but not my last.  Some dear friends of ours moved last month, about six hours away. It’s so hard to walk or drive by their house and not see their familiar cars, not be able to stop in for a quick visit or go to one of Lauren and Scott’s wonderful parties. I miss watching our kids play, setting out a potluck at the pool, and laughing out loud with my friend–our own side-splitting, tears in the eyes version of laughter.

Oh, wait. We can still do that last part. Because here’s the thing that happens with really good freighbors when one moves: we may no longer be neighbors, but we’re still very much friends.

Proximity may have brought us together, but the ties that bind extend far deeper than mere geography. A move does not erase a shared history, does not negate all those hours spent laughing, consoling, talking and celebrating. We’ve got too much invested; we’re forever friends now.

I know this to be true. Because after forty years and numerous moves, guess who’s coming to dinner on Saturday?

Lucy and her family.

(Lauren, this pretty much guarantees we’re celebrating your 80th in New Orleans.)

I think Mr. Rogers would approve.



Author: Kristin O'Keefe

Kristin O’Keefe has bartended in Scotland, written speeches for college presidents, and led communications & marketing for an economic development organization. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, McSweeney's, Barrelhouse, Your Teen, Grown and Flown, and Scary Mommy. Find her on Twitter @_KristinOKeefe and Facebook at Kristin O'Keefe, writer.

2 thoughts on “Won’t You Be My… Freighbor?

  1. Sherri Holdridge says:

    Wonderful post Kristin! Have fun with Lucy – so awesome.


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