Loose Ends: Good neighbors — an untapped resource

MEEKER — “You’re going so fast, there must be a house afire!” my neighbor called out one afternoon as I hurried by on my way to the post office. Sitting on his porch enjoying the late afternoon sunshine, he remembered the days when he dropped everything to answer the call when the fire alarm went off. “I didn’t hear it, did the alarm go off?” he asked sincerely, as he noted that I wasn’t slowing my pace to chat with him. “No, I’m just trying to get to the post office before it closes,” I assured him.
Some time ago the local fire department was searching high and low for volunteers. I don’t know if they were able to find enough willing and able individuals to lend a hand. These days more than a few community services are struggling to find a few good women and men to make the serious commitment that volunteering requires. Mayoral and town council member elections are coming up and so far no one has publicly thrown their proverbial cap into the ring. Elected positions that offer small compensations or honorariums may not be attracting many folks these days, although more than a few town and community residents like to offer their advice for how things should be done.
Quite a few years ago, while interviewing some well-seasoned service providers throughout the community (most of them had more than 30 years experience volunteering), I was struck by their humility as they offered their views that volunteer service wasn’t something they ever questioned, as they knew the community wouldn’t survive long without every resident helping out in one way or another. These veterans of volunteering unanimously agreed that “taking care of our own” extended way past the immediate family.
One of my interviews with three senior volunteer firemen stuck with me. They didn’t remember having trouble coming up with volunteers. However, one of them confided that while they didn’t have any problem with enough men running to the fire to help, they never could find enough people to stick around to roll up the hose when the fire had been put out. Sticking around to clean up the mess is not something that volunteers in every aspect of community service like to do but usually they don’t have much choice in the matter.
Making a serious commitment to a job is not difficult when we are getting a paycheck. Giving one’s time and energy for free doesn’t come as easy. Granted, our lives are busier but the willingness to pitch in and help out where help is most needed doesn’t appear to be part of the modern community member’s job description either. Even in this slower-paced small town life, we have a tendency to run around “like a house afire.”
While Meeker has a history of dedicated volunteers — there were two hardworking residents long ago remembered not only for their dedication to the job at hand but for their appearance, as they were part of the community’s animal population — Boots the firehorse and Rocky the mail-retriever. The story of Boots dates back to the days when horses were used to haul the equipment and there were a couple of times Boots beat the firemen to a fire. In the late 1970s, the Meeker Herald’s Labrador retriever, Rocky, could be spotted most mornings carrying his special leather mailbag for editor K. James Cook.
A recently released collection of essays by Nancy S. Greif and Erin J. Johnson, “The Good Neighbor Guidebook for Colorado,” addresses the fact that the West is changing and offers insights on how to fight the trend toward “pseudo-communities” by re-establishing traditional, strong relationship-based communities. A book blurb and review on Google noted that the collection provides a great deal of helpful information because “natives and newcomers alike need a lot of basic information to cope with issues that arise from increasing population and changing land-use regulations on both the local and federal levels.”
It is interesting the authors thought it was important to point out the alarming trend can be reversed through “the re-establishment of strong neighbor relations, with appreciation not only for shared values, but for diverse opinions.”
The availability of this type of resource tells us the changes we are facing these days are serious, although from all appearances Meeker continues to be a thriving small western community.
Giving time to the community is a extension of being a good neighbor, and the White River Valley continues to be the kind of place where “neighboring” is more than a description of helping out one’s next-door neighbor.