Know Thy Neighbor
What Happens When the Gate Is Closed
By Khaliela Wright
As a field representative for the U.S. Census Bureau, part of my daily work routine is to speak with members of the public. The addresses of such people are randomly selected and I often must make repeated attempts at contact with them, only to find nobody home. I then get the pleasure of talking to the neighbors, whom I have discovered are usually very poor sources of information. I’m a born-and-bred Idahoan, so I know well that this state’s population tends toward independence or even isolationism. Depending on the day and situation, talking to someone’s neighbors can make me laugh or cry. I’ll give you a few examples of situations I’ve encountered recently. Names and places have been omitted to protect the privacy of people I’ve met, but I can say they were all in Idaho.
In mid-January, I arrived at a house and found on the doorstep a container filled with food and other goodies that was clearly meant to be a “Christmas Box.” I presumed the person was elderly, possibly a shut-in, and if she hadn’t opened the door since before Christmas, she must not be in good shape. I requested a welfare check from the local sheriff’s office, and then headed to the neighbors to see what could be learned about the woman’s possible whereabouts.
The neighbor told me the homeowner was elderly, hard of hearing, and probably hadn’t heard me knock. The neighbor insisted that the woman still lived in the house and was doing fine. She said every year at Christmas, her church checked on all the area’s shut-ins. I informed her that the church’s Christmas box was still on the doorstep, and then I left. When the sheriff’s deputy got back to me, I learned that the homeowner had been placed in a nursing home that autumn. Of course, the neighbor, and presumably her church, had no notion of this.