In a quiet neighborhood off Farwell Street in Lewiston, I witnessed the beginnings of revolution.

It wasn’t a violent uprising with guns and bombs, screaming and bleeding — it was the soft kind. The good kind.

They say in an age when self-sufficiency is discouraged, planting a single seed in your backyard is an act of revolution. In my view, the same can be said of neighbors getting together for barbecues, Whiffle ball or just gabbing over the tops of their white-picket fences.

Neighbors mingling over burgers, beer and gossip. Viva la revolution!

Back in the day, everybody knew their neighbors. You kept an eye on them, they kept an eye on you. Every block of streets was its own village, where help was never more than a dooryard away.

In my neck of the woods, everyone knew everyone else by name. We knew their strengths, their needs and their various peccadilloes. Even the neighbors we didn’t particularly like were part of the tribe.

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Next door was Mr. Pouliot, who would keep any Whiffle ball that landed in his garden and burn it under a full moon. He was a crotchety old dude who nevertheless would share his bounty of tomatoes, cucumbers and corn in the waning days of summer.

Next to that was Mrs. Reeves, who was slightly crazy but in a charming way. If you mowed her lawn for her, she’d give you iced tea and she’d love you forever — even if she could never remember your name.

On the other side was Mr. Vigue, a handyman who would never let you pay him, no matter how many of your things he fixed.

“Bah,” he would say, wheeling your lawnmower out of his garage. “That’s what neighbors are for.”

There was Mr. Rigby, who wasn’t allowed to operate the barbecue after the incident of 1982, but who would sharpen the skates of every kid who came by with dull blades.

The Michauds across the street would let you pick apples off their trees, but only if you’d take their crazy, leg-humping collie for a walk around the block.

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Neighborhood kids played together. Mothers gabbed over clotheslines. Men drank beer in garages. Everybody visited everybody on major holidays, and this was a scene repeated block after block after block across America.

Until, you know, it wasn’t.

According to a recent study — a couple of them, actually — less than half of Americans know anything at all about their neighbors. You might have a nodding acquaintance with that weirdo next door, but by and large, there is no sense of camaraderie or mutual assistance. You stay out of his business, he stays out of yours. If you need a cup of sugar at dinnertime, it’s just as easy — and delightfully impersonal — to drive over to Wal-Mart rather than knock on your neighbor’s door and endure THAT awkward experience.

Blame the Internet if you want to. People can gab at all hours with strangers across the world, so why the hell would they want to go out to the driveway to talk with what’s-his-name while he waters his lawn?

Add longer work hours, hellish commutes, fast food and general mistrust to the equation, and you have a nation of isolation, where chances are good you couldn’t pick your next-door neighbor out of a police lineup.

But not on the quiet street off Farwell, by gum. Out there off Farwell, there’s a group of six kids playing Whiffle ball with somebody’s mother actually pitching (underhand, but we’ll forgive her for this). There’s a group of men standing around a flaming barbecue grill, and one of them is wearing an apron with a witty message.

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At a house across the street, an older woman is smiling at the group from the edge of her garden. She waves at them with one gloved hand, swats at flies with the other. There’s a dog with its tongue hanging out, waiting for someone to toss a Frisbee.

The houses are close together and there are no fences between them. Chances are good that there’s a badminton net in one backyard, horseshoe pits in another. It’s a beautiful thing and in an age of growing isolation, it’s revolutionary.

The people out there next to the street eyed me warily as I passed, possibly because I was doing so much looking around as I wheeled through. I took no offense. They probably thought I had designs on the old lady’s loot or the sweet pink flamingo in a neighboring yard. That’s just a tribe looking out for itself and for each other. That’s just what good neighbors are for.

Mark LaFlamme is a Sun Journal staff writer. You can share peccadilloes with him at mlaflamme@sunjournal.com.


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