Grateful

Back in the spring, I met with a local fence builder. Masks on, six feet apart, we walked the perimeter of the backyard and discussed what sections needed replacing and how to guard against the deer who regularly leap over five-foot-high walls if there is even a single hosta to be eaten on the other side. When we got to a stretch on the south side where only a short, sloping wall divides the patio from our neighbor’s porch, he asked if I wanted to close the gap with fencing. “You’d have more privacy,” he said.

We live in a neighborhood in suburban New York where the houses are built into a hillside that slopes dramatically up from the Hudson River, and the houses are right on top of one another; it was a big reason we were so charmed by the area 17 years ago, and we accepted that it came with some compromises.

I told the well-meaning fence guy no way.

That fenceless stretch is the spot where, over the years, my neighbor Lori and I have exchanged the day-to-day necessities of living: flour, a roll of packing tape, a quarter cup of chicken broth, and more parenting advice than I can recount. I was seven months pregnant with my second daughter when Lori first leaned over that fence to introduce herself. She was a mother of four—three girls, one boy—and spoke with authority about the things that worried me, like the age when girls need their moms the most. She seemed to know things I didn’t.

During quarantine, our exchanges kicked into a higher gear, this time with Lori’s 24-year-old daughter, Logan, who was 7 when I first met her across that fence. Everyone was limiting their trips to the supermarket, and most local businesses were closed. Over the wall went lemons, soccer ball pumps, logs for the firepit, baking soda (we joked that we hoped the DEA wasn’t monitoring us), and tomato plant seedlings for our victory gardens. It was a symbiotic relationship: In April, when I needed to borrow vanilla extract to make a birthday cake, it arrived with a beribboned bottle and card; the next day, what remained of the birthday cake went right back over the wall.

Was it about the food? Sure. (Isn’t everything?) But mostly it was nice to know that we were, as always, in it together. Heading into Thanksgiving, and whatever comes next in this long, hard year, let’s remember to look out for our neighbors, look out for each other.

I have such gratitude for all Dinner: A Love Story readers — I always have, but this past year more than ever. Thanks for looking out for me.

This originally appeared in “How to Be Hopeful Right Now” in Real Simple’s November issue.

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14 Comments

Deanne

Tremendous amounts of gratitude for you and your posts! Especially during quarantine. Thank you for looking out for US, your readers!

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sallyt

I love this so much. I have a next door neighbor who is also dear to me – she surprised me with the world’s most complicated birthday cake last week, and I’ve sat in her house in the middle of the night twice to “babysit” her older kid(s) when she gave birth to the younger ones. There’s something very, very special about having wonderful neighbors.

Jenny, I’m grateful to you for providing a sense of normalcy and predictability over the last many months. THANK YOU!

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Patricia

This is lovely. Thank you. Looking forward to your weekday vegetarian cookbook! We can’t wait! Happy Holidays.

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Melanie

Grateful for your words-they always provide perspective, comfort, understanding and hope. And your recipes. Happy Thanksgiving!

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Meg

We live in a somewhat rural suburban town by the coast in New England. When we first moved here from the city, we bought a house on a winding road with no sidewalk. I loved the house but disliked the semi-isolation. When it was time to move to a bigger house for our growing family, a neighborhood was my top priority (“somewhere they can ride bikes and trick or treat” I emphasized to my real estate agent). True neighborhoods are hard to come by in our town so it took nearly two years of looking to find the right hose, but we finally moved into our current house in a neighborhood. I was grateful pre-pandemic but so much more so these last 7 months. I love my neighborhood and cherish the socially distanced walks, chatting from afar, how we would assemble outside the home of a child with a birthday and hold up signs and sing (and once things opened up- have a donut cake delivered from the bakery in town). We have also exchanged chicken, paper towels, potatoes, vanilla and flowers from our gardens over these long months. This year I am so very grateful for my neighbors.

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Michelle

Happy Thanksgiving! I saw this in Real Simple and it was like seeing an old friend. 🙂 So grateful for your spirit and delicious recipes that have been feeding my family for years. Hope you guys have a cozy day.

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Mary Livesay

This made me cry. My mom and dad tore down their fence in our backyard and then built stone steps from our yard into our neighbor’s yard. The neighbors daughters babysat us kids, that neighbor is like a second mother to me. She was there when my mom passed and my mom was there for her when her husband died. Neighbours, friends, and family are what this is all about. Grateful for your little blog – it brings such joy to me (and great recipes). Cheers to Thanksgiving and Cheers to 2021!

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Shima Zonneveld

I look forward to each and every post of yours, thank you!

Are you doing your 2020 gift guide this year?

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REK981

We moved away after 16 and a half years with our beloved neighbors. He has been in poor health for years but hanging on. They were some of the first people we told when we were pregnant with J and some of the first to hold her. Her 4th word was his name. He fell a month ago and died. We still visit his wife and deeply miss the hugs we shared for so many, many years…We don’t have a fence at our new house, I am pushing for a 4 foot to keep it open but still contain the dog and cats, husband wants a 6-8 foot privacy fence. But what if we gain a new beloved neighbor from one of these fine people around us?

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Alison Coleman

I love this Quarantine story and have shared it with several people already! Thank you for this sweet glimpse into your world!

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