I ran into my cheery neighbors, Sandy and Pat, while walking Penne the Entitled Whippet around the block. Sandy held a luscious bouquet of dahlias — a gift from the garden of a friend who lives nearby. We chatted about our families, and our collective gratitude for a few more gloriously mild autumn days.
Less than a week later, I spotted Sandy again, steeling herself against a biting wind and wearing a bright orange parka.
And there was Ruby, across the street, waving from her yard before ducking inside. Little Elias’ sandbox was covered and locked. Andy has stopped his nightly walks around the block with his darling girls.
The neighbors around the corner are noticeably absent, too. It was a jolt to see their flower boxes cleaned out, empty. I don’t know their names but I feel a kinship to them because every evening for months, Penne and I greeted them as they enjoyed a craft beer and the company of one another in their backyard, surrounded by fertile plots of hearty root vegetables and tantalizing raspberries.
We might get lucky. We might get a few more opportunities to be outside by choice, but that sinking annual feeling is back.
We will open our doors on Halloween to dole out sugar to tiny goblins and princesses, but the bittersweet reality is that this will be the last time for many, many months that we’ll see most of our neighbors.
It’s like we’re living our own version of “So Long, Farewell,” that “Sound of Music” charmer by Rodgers and Hammerstein.
“Adieu, adieu, adieu,” the children say, as they disappear one by one.
Boohoo, boohoo, boohoo, say I.
Raised in a mild Southwest climate, I find this one of the hardest adjustments to living in the Land of Serious Winter.
I figured out quickly why we had to put the kibosh on outdoor farmers markets and barbecues on the deck, strolls around lakes followed by stops for ice cream, canoe adventures, county fairs and hammocking.
It took me longer to accept that we must also say so long to our neighbors, even those living just feet from our own front door. In Minnesota, quality connections rule.
Those who prefer quantity move to Florida.
It’s likely no coincidence that the Twin Cities has among the nation’s highest participation rates for the annual National Night Out gathering every August. The joy of catching up is palpable on my block, among neighbors from their 20s to 90s.
People got married! Had babies! Updated kitchens! Binged on “Game of Thrones”!
I don’t know if anybody keeps track of spontaneous summer happy hours on front porches, but I’ll bet we have among the highest number of those per capita, too.
Of course, there’s nothing to keep us from gathering with our neighbors in the dead of winter. But I’ve found that despite our best intentions, plans for winter potlucks or open houses around the hearth fizzle out. It’s too much trouble to get everybody dressed to trek down the block. And the little energy we do have is reserved for family holiday gatherings, which come one after another as the year wraps up. By January, we just want to sleep.
So I’ll wait for that “sad sort of clanging” not from clock in the hall, but from a neighbor hitting concrete with a snow shovel.
“Regretfully they tell us, but firmly they compel us, to say goodbye.”
For now, I’ll fill my winter head with warm summer memories — of Andy and the girls strolling down the street, my mystery neighbors back to planting, and Sandy’s arms filled with dahlias. Of babies newly walking and maybe news of more babies or an engagement or, at least, a few recommendations for great winter getaways or books read by the fireplace.
On Halloween, I start my countdown till spring, when everybody on my block comes out to play.