Last Thursday started off like any other. I woke up, drank tea, drank more tea (this is a two-part process), then headed out for a walk with my kids. The boys were in an afternoon camp, so we had the mornings together. I try to alternate my walks with them and with my good friend Elaine, who lives around the corner. Last week, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday were my Elaine-walking days; on Tuesday and Thursday, I belonged to my kids.
The boys and I play Contact when we walk. It's a cute game where one person thinks of a word and announces the first letter. The other two take turns asking questions whose answer uses that same letter. If the two guessers guess each other's answer before the one who thought of the word, the word-thinker has to reveal the next letter of the hidden word. And on it goes, until the guessers either guess the word or all the letters are revealed. (Here's a slightly longer explanation, with slightly worse grammar.)
So, we were playing Contact, and walking, and we passed an older man named Dino who greeted us as he walked from his car to his house. We've seen Dino before. He lives around the corner, and because his house number is the same as ours, we sometimes get his mail by accident. Dino once invited us in for a Coke, which I thought was sweet. We declined politely at the time, but since then, whenever we pass his house we whisper, "You want to come in for a Coke?"
This time, Dino offered us peaches from his tree.
"Sure, Dino. We'd love some peaches from your tree."
So he got a bag and started plucking fuzzy, beautiful little peaches from the tree in his yard. Soon his wife and son came out to say hello and introduce themselves, and we all chatted about how funny it was that we all get each other's mail. After a few minutes, we collected our peaches, thanked them, and went on our way.
Down the long road, toward the elementary school, past the huge squash vine that twirls and unfurls with giant golden blossoms. As we started up the hill, we decided to check on one of the kid's friends who had broken his arm earlier in the summer.
"Why not see if he wants to come over? Might be a nice surprise..."
So we veered off course, down a side street towards his house.
Halfway there I realized I'd been meaning to say hello to a woman on that street I hadn't seen in a long time. I'd heard she now keeps goats and milks them for cheesemaking, and I wanted to find out if she makes goat yogurt as well.
We rang her bell.
Three dogs bounded out, followed by the woman and her husband. "Hello!" they greeted us.
"Hello!" we said.
We caught up after having not seen each other in several years. "Your boys have gotten so tall!" she said.
And she was right.
We chatted about the goats and made plans to meet up soon for a longer talk.
The boys and I continued on. Down the street, around the corner.
We arrived at my son's friend's house. We adore this whole family, so even though my son's friend wasn't home, we had a nice chat with his mom anyway. Then we continued on.
"Hello," we said to their neighbor, who was out corralling the pile of summer leaves in her yard.
"So nice to see you," she said. Because we know her, too.
We were still playing Contact, in fits and starts, but at this point we started talking instead about how special it was that we knew so many people in the area.
How about we visit one more friend?
So we detoured again. Four blocks down, three blocks over. "Is K home?" my son asked when K's mom answered the door. "No, but it's so nice that you came by! I'll have him call you later when he gets home." And she did, and he did, and he's now at my house, right at this moment, hanging out with my kids.
The next day, Friday, was my Elaine-walking day. I told her all about our social walk the day before, how we interrupted our normal routine to chat with people we've come to know, in various capacities, since moving here from the east coast in 2004. "It's so nice to realize how many connections we've made," I told her. "I'm not sure when it happened, but at some point, it just did. We found our community."
I've had a few people email me in recent weeks. They're moving to the area from elsewhere, and they've been referred to me by friends of friends, or by my older brother, or by my college's alumni group. They want advice. Where to live, where to send their kids to school, where to find the best this and that.
That used to be me, not long ago.
As Elaine listened to me talk about connection, community, belonging, she smiled.
"You have roots here now," she said, simply.
And she was right.
It took time.
Sometimes it just takes a while.
But we have roots.