The day after we close, we go to the house early in the morning to meet with our prospective contractors. The doorbell rings and I think it’s one of the painters we are considering hiring, but when I open the door, a lanky man wearing thick canvas gloves and a wide smile is standing on the stoop.
“Hi! I’m Jim, the garbage man.” Jim thumbs toward the green refuse truck on the street. “I’d shake your hand, but I’ve got my work gloves on. Anyway, I just wanted to welcome you to the neighborhood and let you know that your trash days are Tuesdays and Fridays. Recycling on Thursdays.”
I am speechless. In the roughly thirty years I’ve been alive, I don’t think I’ve ever had a garbage man come to my door and introduce himself to me. In the weeks that follow, our mail carrier and our UPS man will also introduce themselves, and compliment us on the work we are doing to the house.
A few days after we meet Jim, we are pulling into our driveway when we notice that the family next door- a mom, a dad, and three children- are playing together in the front yard. When they see our car, they wave vigorously, as if they have been awaiting our arrival all day. The kids run over to the Jeep and clamor over one another to introduce themselves. There is an eight-year-old girl, a six-year-old boy, and another boy who is just about the same age as Minnow.
“Do you have any kids?” the six-year old boy asks eagerly. After living next to an elderly couple all his life, it is evident that he is hopeful for some new playmates.
“Yes,” I say. “We have a two-and-a-half-year-old daughter and,” I point to my belly, “another girl on the way.”
The kids are overwhelmed by this news. The eight-year-old girl volunteers to babysit for me when she gets a little older and her mom lets her. The six-year-old boy vows to let our girls come into his yard and play in his playhouse whenever they want. The three-year-old boy smiles shyly and digs a toe into the grass. Then the three of them run into their house.
The parents come over to say hello and we can tell right away that these are the type of people others dream of having next door. The husband gives us their home phone number and insists we call them whenever we need a hand. The wife rattles off the names of the best pediatricians, grocery stores, and soccer programs in the village.
The kids bound out the front door carrying a stack of children’s books, including Pinkalicious and Fancy Nancy. On top of the stack is a handmade card. The six-year-old boy hands the books and card to me.
“These are for Minnow,” he explains.
“We know it’s expensive to buy a house,” the eight-year-old girl adds, “so we don’t want you to have to buy books, too.”
I am blown away by these young children’s thoughtfulness and generosity, let alone their mature-beyond-years sympathy. They haven’t even met our daughter and already they are willing to share with her.
Not to be outdone, when our neighbors across the street hear that we have a toddler girl, they leave a mint-condition toddler-sized scooter on our stoop with a note that reads, “Welcome to the neighborhood! Our girls have outgrown this and we thought you could use it.”
“What is going on around here?” I ask my husband. I don’t mean to be skeptical, but, generally, I haven’t had many positive experiences with neighbors. My parents’ next-door-neighbors in Northeast Philadelphia literally throw dog shit in my parents’ swimming pool for sport. In Manhattan, our neighbors didn’t take much interest in us, and we didn’t take much interest in them, because Manhattanites are, as a rule, not interested in anyone but themselves. When we moved to Bronxville we encountered some really great neighbors, and some challenging ones. The man who lived directly below us waited all of two weeks before knocking on our door one afternoon and requesting that we all start walking on the balls of our feet, to reduce the noise on the hardwoods. I told him that I would happily walk on the balls of my feet, and I would relay the message to my husband. Then I pointed to Minnow.
“But…she’s fifteen-months-old, so….”
In the weeks following our move to the new house, various neighbors come by to greet us. Mrs. McConnell, our other next-door neighbor, tells us that she is available for late-night babysitting. She is approximately 94-years-old.
“I’m lucky if I get three or four hours of sleep per night,” she explains. “So if you go into labor in the middle of the night and you need someone to watch the little one, I’d be happy to.”
“Wow, thank you,” I reply graciously. I do not intend to take her up on her offer, given her advanced age and the fact that we met twelve seconds ago, but what a neighborly thing to say.
After I meet another neighbor across the street, she drops by that very afternoon to present me with a gorgeous bouquet of flowers and a warm welcome note. The flowers, in cheerful shades of pink, purple, and yellow, last nearly two weeks in our ugly blue kitchen.
The neighbor who lives behind us, whose name I cannot recall but whose dog’s name is “Eddie,” stops outside our house one afternoon so Minnow can pet the dog and smother him with hugs.
“We moved to the village about thirty years ago, when we were about your age,” he says. “Once you move here, you don’t leave.” He says that last part in an almost Stepford-ish way, and I can’t decide whether I am comforted or minorly disturbed by his words. I mean, we moved to Long Island, not joined a cult. Right?
Then there is the party. Last week as my husband is tending to our vegetable garden, a neighbor from down the block, whom we hadn’t yet met, hands my husband an invitation to a party she and her husband are throwing to welcome all the newcomers on the block. We feel obligated to go, so that Friday night we nervously process to her house, where about forty other neighbors have gathered, with hors d’oeuvres and cocktails in hand to, in one neighbor’s words, “initiate us.”
It is one of the most splendid summer parties I’ve ever attended. Every neighbor we meet is down-to-earth and intent on making us feel welcome in our new town. I discover that around here, friendliness isn’t an anomaly; it’s a lifestyle. Neighbors are, for better or worse, genuinely interested in one another’s lives. If, God forbid, tragedy were to ever strike our block and the local news came to interview some of the neighbors, you would never hear someone say, “We didn’t really know the family. They kept to themselves.”
One afternoon I am chit-chatting with my neighbor across the street- the one who gave Minnow the scooter- when her next-door-neighbor exits her house and approaches us.
“Have you met the new neighbor?” the woman with whom I’m chatting asks.
I don’t answer because I assume she is talking to her next-door-neighbor, who has joined us on the sidewalk.
“C, have you met the new neighbor?” she asks again.
“What are you talking about?” I respond. “I’m the new neighbor.”
“No! This is Kristy. She and her family are from Mississippi and just moved in on Saturday. She’s even newer than you.”
“I just can’t get over how nice everyone is around here!” Kristy drawls. “Down South New Yorkers get a bad rap, but we are so impressed with everyone’s hospitality.”
As she continues I wonder whether we- no longer the new family on the block- ought to bake Kristy and her kids a batch of cookies.