When the first snow of 2014 blanketed in on New Year’s Day, we enjoyed the comforts of home with Let-It-Snow ease. We had no particular plans and no need to set so much as a toe outdoors, so we made a late breakfast of Egg VanMuffins (similar to Egg McMuffins, but with that certain Belgian flare), poured piping hot cups of coffee, and dreamed the day away. The world was a snow globe, and the snow continued well into the evening. After dinner, a few spartan neighbors braved the bitter cold to clear snow from their front walks and driveways. Snowblowers sputtered and churned as snowflakes drifted down.
By 7 a.m. this morning, most of our neighbors had cleared their driveways, but ours was still a winter wonderland. (Jeff’s back has been deviling him this winter, so I’ve been doing the shoveling, not that I mind it. I love being outdoors in the wintertime, and besides, there’s a psychological advantage to snow-shoveling. A snowy driveway presents itself as a large problem to be solved. The first way to break down the problem is to divide it into manageable parts. Then, with patience and a little effort, the problem vanishes in foot-wide strips. When the job is done, it’s a great feeling. It’s not too much of a stretch to realize that most of life’s problems can be addressed in a similar manner.) I had no particular ambition to shovel first thing in the morning, as neither Jeff nor I had anywhere to go until afternoon. However, around 11:00 a.m., we looked out to find that our entire driveway and sidewalk had been shoveled by our neighbor’s two daughters. One daughter lives here, the other is visiting from Wisconsin. They didn’t have to help with our snow, but they did, just because. It was heartwarming to know their motive was to spare me the effort of shoveling solo. How sweet of them.
Neighborliness. It’s one of the pleasantest things around, and in our Midwestern town, on our street, a beautiful sense of neighborliness flourishes. We trade eggs and cups of sugar, water each other’s flowers when one of us is traveling, take in the garbage cans for an elderly neighbor whose hips and knees ache, help shovel each other out when the snowplow leaves a curbside mountain of snow that blocks all our driveways. It’s just what we do on our little court, but I never take it for granted. Today, as I lugged a huge sack of black oil sunflower seed out of the back of my car, our neighbor called out from his front yard, “Helloooooo, Amy!! HAPPY NEW YEAR!!” He was taking down the white lights from the branches of his tree, and his cheeriness was contagious.
Our first and best lesson in neighborliness came when Jeff and I were newlyweds. Our first house was also on a cul-de-sac, about a mile from where we live now. We bought the house in early autumn and happily set up housekeeping. At that time, we had one car. Jeff would drop me off at work, drive to his own office, pick me up again at 5 p.m., then drive us back home. Winter arrived early and with a vengeance that year, and one day while we were at work, a blizzard swept through town, dumping a good seven inches of heavy snow before 5 p.m. As we battled the snowy streets home, we felt mournful because, as new home-owners, we didn’t have a snow shovel to our name. We drove down our street, figuring we’d have to ring doorbells to borrow a shovel. As we approached our extra-long driveway, we saw to our amazement that someone had already shoveled us out. We were stunned. Our beneficiary was our dear, loving neighbor, Gary, who was temporarily unemployed. He and his family didn’t have money to spare, but he thought nothing of using his snowblower to help a couple of kids out of a snowy predicament. I have never forgotten Gary’s kindness, and because of his sterling example, I delight in paying it forward whenever I can. I’m lucky, because I’ve landed in a neighborhood where I have ample opportunities.
A glow of appreciation for my neighbor’s daughters, who so kindly cleared our driveway, stayed with me into the afternoon. I made a decision and zipped off to the market to buy three oranges — one for each daughter, and one for their parents, who raised such thoughtful women. I studded the three oranges with fragrant cloves and wrapped each one with ribbons, a sweet-smelling winter’s thank you, just because, one kindness heaped upon another in that pleasant back and forth of neighborliness that encircles the seasons.