Why We Take Presents to the Neighbors

I'm sure I could find the specifics of this story if I searched the blog thoroughly, but, frankly, I don't feel like it. I can tell the story just as well without using specific names and specific towns anyway.

It was at the second Christmas in our current house, I believe, that we decided to start giving presents to our neighbors. Our neighbor to the south has lived here longer than we have, and we're friends with her now (food presents are always an icebreaker). Our neighbors to the north have come and gone; we've have really great neighbors and really terrible neighbors in that house. When students lived next door, they would play music so loud that we once even had to call the police. When we showed up that Christmas with a cookie mix from Women's Bean Project and talked to them for a good while, we got along swimmingly ... and the loud music stopped.

We dropped off some sweet bread (not to be confused with sweetbreads), coffee, and peppermint cocoa for the kids at our northern neighbors' house last night, then sat on the porch and reminisced.

And that reminiscing wasn't necessarily pleasant.

All this started when I found a news story about a woman in southern Texas who took hostages in a welfare office and concluded this by killing her two children and then herself. She had been turned down for food stamps because she falsified how much she made. More details came out over the week: She lived in a broken down trailer (possibly rent-free, thanks to a generous landlady--Lord, give the world more of those!) that had a tarp where the roof should be. The landlady checked in on her a lot. Another neighbor brought her food occasionally. No, these people didn't stop the tragedy, but they helped a woman in need. And I realized, I don't even know my neighbors.

If you hear what neighborhood I live in, you think it's one of the more stable, well-off neighborhoods in my town. And it is ... until you get to my street. Remember my last blog post? Neighbors who came by without costumes for Halloween? It's a safe neighborhood, but it's not the well-off section of it. The people west of us complain about the university being too close to them and demand the streets be closed off so no one can park near their houses on game day. My section? Well, the cheapest grocery store in town was nearby, and it was closed down by the I-35E expansion. I know I miss it--I miss the fresh tamales that would show up there occasionally. But the truth is, we're now in a food desert.

After reading about that woman, we began giving presents. Started with homemade cookies. Moved on to soup mixes from Women's Bean Project. Now, I surprise my neighbors with bread every now and then. We use my bread machine's big loaf pan for the northern neighbor because they have a big family; we use a divided pan that makes two mini-loaves and give one to our neighbor who lives alone and keep one for ourselves. (Chris and I have discovered the hard way that, if we don't eat the bread right away, it'll go bad. Less is more here.) I was inspired by the stupid red cup debacle (kill me) by several pastors to get both my neighbors and a homeless person a cup of coffee. Still have to find a homeless man, but both our neighbors have been coffee'd, and this afternoon we'll give the southern neighbor nut butter that Chris made (thank you, honey) and bread that I made (thank you, bread machine). And then we'll take her out to dinner on Christmas Day because her S.O. is visiting daughters in Boston (thanks for being open 365 days a year, Bagheri's).

Sorry to end on a dark note, but remembering that woman certainly dampened our mood as we sat there on the porch and hugged. I don't want anything like that to happen again. Not on my watch.