Thursday, March 3, 2011

Good Neighbors: Homemade Croissants and A Beer Named Stephen

Jared's homemade crossiants and a beer named Stephen, Feb. 2011.
Hanging out with our neighbors Amy and Jared is always fun, but our visit with them last week was especially exciting because it included homemade croissants and a home-brewed beer that Jared calls "Stephen" after Amy's brother.  Our visit was also a good reminder of how important it is to cultivate friendships with good neighbors.

I hadn't expected treats when I called to see if Amy and Jared were home that afternoon.  In fact, I was calling because I wanted to deliver a jar of my freshly-made marmalade.  I'd promised to give Amy a jar earlier in the week, but had given the jar meant for her away when a co-worker saw it and asked if it was for him.  Naturally, I said it was and handed over the jar.  That's the joy of having friends who are also neighbors-- you can always catch up with them later.  I feel lucky that Amy and Jared are the sort of people who are fine with drop-in visitors and last minute plans.  This makes life easy.  And fun.  Especially since they're always ready to share a batch of fresh bread or to tap a keg of home-brewed beer.

I hadn't realized how much I missed real neighbors living in Los Angeles.   We don't know most of our neighbors and we wish we didn't know some of the others.  (My mother would say that's an "ugly" comment, and maybe it is, but it also happens to be true.)  For the past decade, I've lived in several places where, with a few wonderful exceptions, we've had a "don't ask/don't tell/don't speak" policy with most of our neighbors.

We've had neighbors who pretended they didn't see us when we said hello to them and some who were actively rude for no reason we could figure out.  We once had a neighbor put an "anonymous" note on our car because he was upset that we legally parked our car in front of our house on a regular basis.  Unfortunately, he also used monogrammed stationary.  I can only assume he wanted us to know he'd written the note, in spite of the fact that he signed it "a neighbor".  It was weirdly passive-aggressive.  As were neighbors who sent their gardener to our backyard (without discussion, much less permission) to chop down branches of "their" fruit tree that dangled productively over our yard.  Their gardner dutifully pruned only the limbs in our yard, leaving the crop on their side of the fence unmolested.  Overlooking the simple fact that what they'd done was illegal, I couldn't believe somebody would do something so mean-spirited-- and so unneighborly.

When I was growing up in a small town in Virginia, there was an unwritten code for dealing with neighbors.  Neighbors deserved courtesy and special consideration-- even if they asked for a favor at an inconvenient time or a favor you just didn't want to do.  My parents went out of their way to be good friends to their neighbors, knowing that their neighbors would do the same for them.  It wasn't that they always expected something in return.  They just believed in fostering good-will in the neighborhood.  My parents taught me to suck it up and be a good neighbor even when your neighbors don't reciprocate because the neighborhood is like a garden-- it must be well-tended and protected if you want it to produce fruit.

Of course, this system only works if a majority of people in the neighborhood buy into the system.  To my great delight, I've recently discovered that a number of my current neighbors feel the same way.    I'm going to start finding ways to reach out to my like-minded neighbors-- those who share the believe that creating community matters-- and ignore the neighbors who clearly don't get it.  I've just sent an e-mail to a newly befriended neighbor trying to figure out how I can become a part of our local community garden.  Recognizing that I haven't always been the greatest neighbor myself, I've also vowed to cut back on thinking evil thoughts about the neighbors who aren't so neighborly.

I'm so happy to now live in a house where we have great neighbors across the fence and to have Amy and Jared living conveniently around the corner.  I don't know why I find having good neighbors so comforting.  Maybe it's because as a non-native Californian, I still can't get used to the fact that "the big one" might rattle the foundation of my house-- and my world-- at any moment.  Maybe it's because I'm just a small-town girl at heart.  I like saying hello to my neighbors and having them say hello back to me.  I like taking a walk in the evening and learning that our local elementary school has a great holiday fair each Fall.  And I like knowing that someone may surprise me with the gift of fresh croissants at any moment.
My daughter can't resist a homemade croissant, Feb. 2011.

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