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A study by State Farm Insurance found that only 25% of Americans know the names of their neighbors. That’s a very important fact and not a good one. That same study found that 60% of people have complaints about their neighbors. According to Tribune newspapers in April 2012, “Neighborly relations have declined in the U.S. since the 1950’s, for reasons sociologists don’t quite know, and lack of local ties is bad for crime and a community’s ability to organize for their interests, to say nothing of leaving you stranded when you need one more egg.”

Yesterday, I thought about that study when I took our puppy on a walk and saw an elderly neighbor shoveling her long, sloping driveway. She must have been shoveling for a good hour and half because I had seen her on my way home from the grocery store. Then, she had been at the top of the driveway, now, she was three-quarters of the way down. That’s a lot of shoveling for anyone, I thought, especially for someone in her seventies.

When I saw her the first time, she was by herself, but now, there was a man a good thirty years younger watching her from the shoveled part of the driveway with a toothpick in his mouth. Why aren’t you shoveling? I wanted to ask him. Instead I just said “hi”. He did not say hi back. She did, in a matter-of-fact way, and she went on working.

“I hope you’re not working too hard,” I said, smiling. She gave me a half-smile back.

The man just stood there perfectly still and I had a feeling that he just wanted me to leave.

I walked away with a bit of a bad taste in my mouth. Something just didn’t seem right. Was what I saw as simple as a stubborn woman who didn’t want the man, whoever he was, to help her? Or was it something I should be concerned about? Or was it neither of those things? I know that there are a lot of people who either live in the house or visit. I often see three to four cars outside. But what does it all mean?

The truth is, both of us fit right into State Farm’s statistics on neighbors. As many years as I’ve seen her, I don’t know her name or anything about her.  She doesn’t know my name or anything about me. And I do have a complaint: Next time it snows I’d like to see that man shoveling the driveway. But maybe he can’t because he has a medical condition. Of course, I’ll never know. I’ll just have to draw my own conclusions.