I remember when I was growing up it was customary for a neighborhood to welcome a new family with gifts of food. Sometime during the first week of getting unpacked and settled, the front doorbell would ring; and behind it would be standing, a family of smiling faces, bearing a basket of homemade cookies or a pie or a casserole; ready to say, “Hi, we’re the William’s family and we live across the street, in that house over there. We just wanted to say welcome to the neighborhood and if you need anything, here’s our number.”
I was a little kid when we moved a few times, but I never forgot how nice those little gifts of food were. It wasn’t the food really, it was the kindness that even a wee kid like me, recognized. Somehow it made me feel “official”, like the move was complete and I was now a “real” part of my new neighborhood.
Fast forward to high school carpool. The year had just started and we had a new person added to our pick-up list. Their family had moved in over the summer -but on a street not very close to ours. First day in the car, someone asked Clara George (name changed to protect the innocent) how she liked her new house and the neighborhood. She exclaimed, “Oh I like the house just fine, but this is the most stuck up neighborhood in the world! Do you know not ONE person has come to the door with cookies or ANYTHING!”. I laughed my head off.
Thirty two years later, I still remember that moment and even where I was sitting in the car and how loudly I snorted. Everyone giggled and told her that she was right, in our neighborhood, this wasn’t a tradition any more. Sad reality. (Even though when we moved in, I do recall neighbors coming by and also a lady from “The Welcome Wagon” who had a whole basket of assorted treats.) What a difference a few years had made. When we moved in, I was in the 5th grade and when Clara moved in, it was six years later and there was no more “Welcome Wagon”. I wonder why?
When I moved into my first condo it was a snowy January day. We were on the second floor of our building and I was so excited about being on my own. I envisioned being great friends with all of my neighbors and feeling secure having people near by. The second night one of my best friends and I were in the kitchen lining the cabinets when the doorbell rang. I exclaimed to her, “It’s my first neighbor come to welcome me!!”. Sure enough when I opened the door, there he stood. Nervously, but cheerfully, I introduced myself and he said, “I’m Eric and I live beneath you. I don’t know what you are doing- but you are being too loud.” I explained that I had just moved in and I was only lining my kitchen cabinets. (We weren’t even using a hammer! ha!) I apologized and shut the door feeling utterly deflated. (Thanks for the lovely welcome, Eric.) Sad to say that most of the people in that complex were of similar nature. I didn’t last there long. It hurt my soul.
Three moves later and a little over a year ago, my husband, Charlie, and I moved into our town house. The tradition of neighbors bearing gifts and smiles long forgotten and no longer expected, we introduced ourselves to neighbors in passing. One day there was a knock at the door and there stood our next door neighbor with a beautiful plate of Indian food. (She was from India). I almost cried. She didn’t really say it was to welcome us, but rather she said, “I hope you enjoy.”
It didn’t matter. It was kindness (and it was delicious!)
Sadly, they moved away and not too very long ago, two lovely 24 year old girls moved in. Charlie and I decided to welcome them with a lasagna dinner, complete with salad and desert. They were floored, but very grateful! They told us that they both teach autistic children and neither of them cook, so a home-cooked meal meant a lot. I floated back into my home so happy! (There is no high so great as the feeling one gets in doing something nice for another.) So now, we make a habit of sharing our meals with them whenever we make something especially yummy. I like to think that they will always remember this and that perhaps one day, they will do the same for a new neighbor in their next dwelling place. I wonder how many people their age do not even remember a time when this was a tradition?
I know that these days, not everyone can afford to gifts of food for new neighbors. (Honestly, did I just write that statement? Is that really a true statement? Who cannot afford just one cupcake or cookie or even just a card with your phone number in it?) Kindness doesn’t cost much and it goes such a very long way. I know there are people out there who will use the argument that it’s not safe to knock on doors any more or that people won’t trust food made by strangers. I say that is just an excuse based in fear.
We are a people so stuck behind computer screens, immersed in cell phones, attached to video games, etc. that we’ve lost our sense of community. (For the record, Facebook doesn’t count as community!) I think if it’s out of our comfort zone, we don’t make the effort any more and that’s just wrong. I would love to see the tradition of welcoming and caring for one’s neighbors resurrected.
I have so much fun packing up dinner for the girls next door. This morning one of them stopped Charlie and I in the driveway and just went on and on profusely thanking us. She said, “We are 24 and if we are going to eat pasta -it’s coming out of a can or it’s frozen! You have no idea how much we love the food!” She’s told Charlie before that they work crazy hours for little money and that often they are so tired when they get home. So yes, I will continue to feed them when the opportunities present themselves because it makes my heart smile and they are starting to feel like family.
That’s exactly what kindness does. It is so true that in giving we DO receive, OH and also, FOOD IS LOVE! 😉