People tend to keep their homes for a long time in my southwest Minneapolis neighborhood. But every now and then, we get new neighbors.

Sometimes they’re even transplants from another state, which makes for some nice variety and occasional confusion about how we do things in these parts. That’s what happened with Eric and Erica, the new neighbors. (Yes, I know about the names, but they’d already heard all the jokes by the time they got here.)

They had recently moved from the Bay Area and seemed like perfectly nice people. But as fall turned to winter, they seemed to become — well, the only word for it was “confused.”

It started in November. Eric approached me one afternoon as I was heading out to put more books in my Little Free Library.

“Say, Julie,” he said, “I’m wondering if you can settle a bet I’ve got going with my wife.”

“Sure,” I said, as I loaded in dog-eared copies of “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” and “Patty Jane’s House of Curl.”

“It’s about those, um, green things,” he said, gesturing toward the pots of spruce toppers displayed at my front door.

I prepared myself for a compliment, but I was surprised.

“Erica says that you’ve planted that stuff and it’s going to grow all winter long, because why would someone go to all that trouble just to poke dead sticks in a pot? But I told her that couldn’t be possible, because everything — and I do mean everything — is going to die in January, right? Including maybe us?”

He shivered in the crisp fall air.

“You’re right, Eric,” I said. “Nothing is going to be growing anywhere until maybe June, assuming all the snow is melted by then.”

He walked home, possibly happy that he’d won the bet, but possibly a little bit overwhelmed.

“Eric!” I called after him. “Buy yourself a warmer coat, hon. This is just the beginning.”

A long winter

We invited Eric and Erica to our neighborhood holiday potluck, and they showed up right on time, wearing sweaters so new I swore I could see the crease marks on them.

“I’ll take your plates while you take off your shoes,” I told them.

They looked down at the sea of loafers, boots and moccasins set out on the rugs I’d placed by the front door. “Do people just walk around in their stocking feet?” Erica whispered to me.

“Usually,” I said, “unless they bring party shoes.”

“I don’t even know what party shoes are!” she squeaked.

“My sock has a hole in it,” Eric said, “but it’s too cold to walk back home.” I swore his voice sounded weaker than before.

I ushered them inside and they got to work, untying.

They had a good time at the party, even pulling off a respectable 20-minute Minnesota goodbye. As Erica left, she thanked me for my “yummy bars” and gave me a full five-count on that final “s.”

They seemed to rally even more as Christmas drew near. I warned against jumping into lutefisk their first year. “You need to let your blood thicken up a little bit,” I suggested.

They went out and bought tree toppers for their own front porch.

I lost track of them after the holidays, as we do. I’ve seen entire families go into their houses in December and re-emerge in spring with children who seem to have aged a full decade, or with new children entirely. Long winters will do that.

The next time I ran into Eric was while shoveling out from a massive March snowstorm. He had one more question, and he leaned in to make himself heard over the snowplow rumbling past: “When can I take it down?”

“Take down what?”

“My wreath,” he told me. “I’ve noticed all the neighbors kept their Christmas wreaths on their front doors. I thought maybe there was some sort of holiday for when the snow melts in June, like you told me, where we toss them all into Minnehaha Creek or set them all on fire in our backyards.”

Eric, I realized, was on to something. Leave it to a Californian to invent a new Minnesota holiday.

“I’ll see you in June,” I told him. “I’ll bring the wreaths; you bring the lighter fluid.”


Julie Kendrick has lived in Minnesota since 1993. Follow her on Twitter: @KendrickWorks.