All winter long we loved our neighbors from a distance.

We waved at them through our windshields, waxing nostalgic about the wonderful people in our development. But, in truth, from November to May we rarely saw them face to face. Icy winds and automatic garage-door openers combined to keep them at car's length.

Now it is spring, and we are working and playing outdoors, meeting the people we didn't see all winter. And with the warm breezes comes the chilling thought that those who live nearest are not always dearest.

Why is it, I wonder:

* That people who sleep late on Saturdays always live next to people who start mowing at sunrise?

* That people who mulch, lime and aerate always live next to people who consider the dandelion a lovely wildflower?

* That people who sprinkle at sunset always live next to people who believe that if God wanted grass to be green, he would have created automatic sprinkler systems?

* That people who barbecue always live next to people who like to keep their windows open?

* That people who hate pets always live next door to people who let their dogs run loose through the lilacs?

* That people who love loud, late-night lawn parties always live next to people who go to bed early so they can get an early start on their mowing?

Spring in our neighborhood brings the joyful noise of children fighting. Street hockey players are tripping soccer players. Roller skaters are skating into bike riders. Big kids are hitting small kids, small kids are kicking big kids and, shortly afterward, parents are getting into the act.

Parents negotiate with the knowledge that they all have to keep living together--at least until the first frost. Compared to these negotiations, a Reagan-Brezhnev summit would be child's play.

Parents of kids who hit believe that children should work things out for themselves. Parents of kids who get hit believe that hitters have psychopathic tendencies and should be tarred and feathered.

When we bought our house, we investigated the traffic patterns, sanitation service, school system--everything about our environment except the people who would share it with us. It's too late now. All we can do is pray for rain, or hail, or a sudden cold snap.

Bad weather makes good neighbors.