HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns
February 5, 2007, Herald Journal

A good neighbor


He was the first person I met after moving to rural Carver County. We had finished unloading the rental truck, and were taking a break for some lunch when he knocked on the door.

He told me his name, Mylo Noerenberg, and told me a bit about himself and about the neighborhood.

He knew a lot about the area because the farm he ran had been in his family for more than a century.

For nearly two decades, he stopped by a couple of times a year, and when he did, we would talk about whatever was on his mind.

He was a good deal older than I was, and our backgrounds were very different, but during our infrequent visits, I learned more about him, and about other things, as well.

We moved from the city to a hobby farm in the country to get some space, and in that regard, Mylo was the perfect neighbor.

He was always friendly and helpful, but he was extremely respectful of our land and our privacy.

He would never stop by unless we were outdoors, or he saw one of the cars in the driveway and knew we had just arrived at home.

I grew up in a city, and no doubt, that showed. Mylo may have privately laughed at our foolishness as we learned about life in the country, but to us, he was always patient, respectful, and willing to share his knowledge.

During our first winter on the farm, we had not yet purchased a tractor for plowing snow. After the first major snowfall, we arrived home from work to find that Mylo had plowed our entire driveway without being asked.

He refused to accept any money for this. He said he couldn’t take any money because we hadn’t hired him. In the end, he did agree to accept some beer as a token payment, but even then, he asked us to sit down and share it with him.

He was just helping a neighbor, he said. He knew we didn’t have a plow, and he had the tractor warmed up anyway, he explained.

That was just one of the many times that Mylo and his family helped us over the years.

I can envision him now, standing in our kitchen, his sharp features jutting out from beneath the ever-present ball cap he got from a seed company. His face bore witness to a life spent working in the sun and wind, and his presence tended to fill the room. He was a dairy farmer and he smelled of soil and hay, cow barns and tractor exhaust. It was not a bad smell, but earthy and real, a bit like Mylo, himself.

There was something peaceful about coming home and seeing him out working around his farm across the road. His appearance and his friendly wave were constants in a changing world.

He was a practical man, and a man without pretense. He always seemed to know what was going on in the area, and I had an impression that he kept an eye on our place when we were not around.

This never came across as intrusive; he was just looking out for his neighbors.

Some people watch their neighbors for other reasons. Some, like Gladys Kravitz, are forever spying from behind curtains or peering over fences, looking for something their neighbors have done (or not done) that they can complain about, or gossip about.

Good neighbors pay attention to what goes on in their neighborhood, but not to compile a list of petty grievances. They respect the privacy of others, and don’t poke their noses into other people’s business, or snipe at those who may be different from them.

In contrast, there are other people who have no respect for their neighbors or their property. These are the inconsiderate slobs who make noise at all hours, or drive too fast through the neighborhood. They are the ones who see nothing wrong with trespassing or letting their dogs roam free. It is clear that they do not care about anyone but themselves.

They see their neighbors as nothing more than a potential source from whom they can borrow tools, and view their neighbors’ property as an extension of their own.

Having people like that in the neighborhood makes life a bit less pleasant for anyone unlucky enough to have them for a neighbor.

Mylo won’t be stopping by anymore. He died Jan. 19 at age 65.

I saw him just a couple days before he died. He stopped by the house one afternoon when I got home from work.

His breathing was more labored, but otherwise, he seemed the same as he always had. I think he may still have been wearing the same hat that he wore the first day I met him. He wore the same smile, too.

We talked about the usual subjects, including government regulations, the price of gas, his family, and the farm. He talked a bit about his health, too.

His lung problems had become worse. He was limited in what he could do, and he joked about some of the things that his doctor had made him give up, which included snowmobiling.

He didn’t complain though. In the manner of a man who has spent his life scratching out a living in the face of weather and a million other factors that are beyond his control, he shrugged it off with a smile.

“Snowmobiling is not the same anymore, anyway,” he said. There was a wistful look in his eye as he gestured toward the horizon and said that he used to be able to ride his snowmobile for miles over open fields without bothering anyone.

This was typical of Mylo; even when engaged in one of his favorite activities, he was concerned about not bothering others.

The distinction between good and bad neighbors has been around as long as people have lived together in the same place.

About 700 b.c., the Greek poet Hesiod described the significance of neighbors pretty well. In “The Theogony,” he wrote, “A bad neighbor is a misfortune as much as a good one is a blessing.”

That about says it.

We were lucky to have Mylo as our neighbor. He was one of the good ones.