Last spring, my husband Bryan and I moved to a new house in a new neighborhood. I, who grew up in southwestern Wisconsin, was excited about our proximity to beautiful farm fields and hiking trails, and I couldn’t wait to host campfire parties in our backyard.
I was also excited to meet our new neighbors. I envisioned summer block parties and driveway picnics, exchanging waves at the mailbox, and trading sidewalk shoveling duties in the winter. As we unpacked on day three, the guy from across the street appeared on our porch. He introduced himself and welcomed us, and offered to lend us his garage full of tools if we needed anything (little did he know that I’ve been a voracious reader of The Family Handyman magazine since I was 6, and am a pretty good fix-it girl myself, thank you very much).
Maybe it was old-fashioned of me, but I sort of expected a few other neighbors to stop by that week after our welcome from Mr. Across-the-Street. But no one came. I lingered near the fence in the backyard, ostensibly weeding my rhubarb patch, hoping it would lead to an organic meeting with the couple next door, whose vegetable garden was the most gorgeous I’ve ever seen. Not a glimpse of them.
A month or so passed. I realized that they weren’t coming—no sweet old ladies were going to ring the doorbell with a welcome-to-the-neighborhood apple pie.
So I took matters into my own hands. I was craving that sense of community and belonging—the whole reason people live in neighborhoods in the first place. One Sunday afternoon, I baked ten dozen cookies. I wrapped them up in pretty bags, and wrote a note on each one: “Hello from the Pitterles, your new-ish neighbors!” I jotted down our address.
Bryan and I set off down the street, stopping at each house to deliver a batch of cookies and introduce ourselves. And the neighbors were incredible. “Oh, hello!” they’d exclaim. “We’ve been meaning to stop by and welcome you—but things are just so busy!” They were so earnest, so warm, and quick to invite us over for drinks, dinner or book club—I felt guilty for expecting them to rush to our doorstep in the first place.
Many of the families on our street have babies, toddlers and elementary-aged kids. And the reality is that we live in a fast-paced world, even in a relatively sleepy suburb. There are hockey practices and kindermusik classes to get to, newspapers to skim and emails to answer, snow to be shoveled and dinner to be got on the table. Modern life doesn’t always allow for hot cocoa on the porch with the people next door. And that Upper-Midwestern politesse (born of Northern-European stoicism) makes many of us shy.
It’s a new year—a fresh start. My resolution is to take more walks around the block, to stop and chat with the kiddos building a snowman in their front yard. If you’re craving community this winter, I encourage you to take the first step. And bring cookies.