My Neighbor Friend – published in SLO Village Newsletter
I moved to SLO three years ago and my first self-appointed task, once boxes were unpacked and books lined the shelves, was to build community.
I have turtle-like tendencies and love to pull the walls of my home around me and snuggle in with a good book and a cup of tea and snacks. I love snacks. But even turtles need connections and people they can count on. And, as a collector of stories – written and told – talking to people is one of my favorite pastimes.
I took it slow, sorting through new acquaintances for those who might become friends. Turtle-paced. Nurturing the connections that showed promise. Not knowing that the first person I met in my new home would become my closest SLO friend.
The day after we arrived, while I was unboxing, there came a knock on our door. It was our new neighbor, a few homes over, come to welcome us. We smiled, exchanged names and pleasantries, and promised to someday get together for tea. It took us a few months, but we did. Soon we had a standing Friday morning tea date. One week I’d carry my morning coffee over, the next she’d bring her tea. She quickly learned enough about me to have a pen and notepad near my assigned chair because I’m known to interrupt to say, “Oh! I have to write that down! Could you repeat that?!” We’d chat for an hour or two, then carry on with our respective weeks.
Over the next few months, we unfolded the stories of our lives and vignettes from our weeks. She told me of her grandparents and her grandchildren and explained why she never had less than a half tank of gas in the car. My late husband’s ghost would haunt me!
I am not as diligent as she is about driving to Costco for gas, so I have become fast friends with the ghost of a man I never met. He is always sweet about it, but when the arrow hits the quarter mark, he tsk tsks and sighs dramatically, and I find myself driving to the gas station to appease him.
When the pandemic hit, our weekly ritual was fully ingrained. She lives alone and I pondered whether she’d be willing to try video calls. She wasn’t comfortable with videos then and I wasn’t yet aware of how tired I would soon become with zoom. So we found alternatives.
Since March of 2020, a folding chair (and sometimes a blanket) live right outside her front door. She sits inside her home, screen door closed, and I sit 10 feet away, in the folding chair. Sometimes I bring my coffee. Sometimes a snack. Sometimes it’s a story to share, a picture or a memento from another time.
We see each other daily and have become a human lifeline for the other.
She shares my – frequently dark – sense of humor and pragmatic optimism. She has shared her stories – past and present – and has become comfortable enough in our friendship to ask for help when she needs it (usually it’s the other way around). I’ve learned the things that make her nervous and the times of day when it’s best not to visit. I know that, unlike me, she prefers the sunny warmer days and, before COVID, enjoyed browsing shops.
She’s watched my human child grow into a young man. She’s listened to his voice deepen and shared the day-to-day non-stories of parenting. She’s applauded my new job(s) and everyday victories. She remembers important dates and checks in when there’s a medical appointment, a birthday, or a random family plan. She’s listened when my heart hurt, shared insider scoops on best places to buy things that I wouldn’t even know to look for, and read everything I wrote in the past year or so. She’s even agreed to be godmother to my fledgling patio garden and oohs and aahs over pictures of the plant babies.
Recently I was halfway through a recipe when I realized I had no sugar. I almost drove to the nearest grocery store, but I thought I could make us both laugh. I texted her and asked, “Do you happen to have a cup of sugar to lend to a neighbor?!
I love that, by the time I borrowed a cup of sugar, we were both close enough that we could ask for so much more.