I can’t begin to count the number of times I have whined and moaned about the fact that we have coin laundry. It’s expensive, it’s inconvenient, it’s upsetting when people steal my clothes from the washer. When children pee their beds I have to wait to do laundry until a.) the laundry room opens in the morning b.) I am dressed and the children are dressed and c.) I am able to be around for a full two hours to vigilantly supervise my clothing and make sure it’s safe. I tend to whine a lot.
And don’t get me started about the mail, and having to walk over to get it, or the distance I need to walk to the dumpster to take out the trash.
And there’s the bit where our apartment is small and the play area for the kids is public and requires extra vigilance and we need to deal with irritating people from time to time and safeguard our children from people who apparently have no natural sense of healthy boundaries.
If I had my druthers, our house would be larger, detached, have a private fenced yard, and a laundry room off of the kitchen. But then last Thursday night would have never happened.
See, the thing about living where we do is that I am forced to interact with people.
There is an elderly gentleman who has lived here as long as we have almost. (I’ll call him Bill.) I see him occasionally in the laundry room and we chat. He waves and say hi almost every single day as he walks past us to collect his mail and grins at the assortment of children playing in front of our apartment. I finally learned his name and met his wife this summer at a rare community event hosted by the staff here.
I have made friends with another woman, Margarita, because I always saw her walking outside with her baby past my house. From a large family in Chile, she is lonely here in the US with her husband and little girl. She stops by almost every day to say hi and talk for a while. She has become a good friend.
Our next door neighbors, from India have become friends by virtue of the sheer closeness of our front doors. It’s more awkward to not talk when we’re both outside enjoying the sun than to make conversation.
None of these relationships may have happened if I were in my ideal house with the laundry room and private yard. This week I saw the elderly gentleman in the laundry room again. This time with oxygen connected to his nose. We discussed New Year’s plans and said farewell and a crazy plan started to hatch itself at the back of my mind.
My grandmother used to always have us all over to the farm for turkey dinner on New Year’s Day. And I had a giant turkey in the freezer… So I loaded up Little on my hip and walked over to the elderly couple’s apartment.
“Do you have plans for tomorrow?”
“Well now, there’s the parade on TV, and the football games, but not really other than that.”
I grinned. “Well, I wouldn’t want to cut into your football watching at all, but I wondered if you would both like to join us for turkey dinner.”
“That’s very kind of you, what should we bring…”
After that I had one more stop. I jogged up the steps to Margarita’s apartment and knocked. But she wasn’t there. Instead she was in her customary spot on the hill outside my door, waiting for me to get back. “Do you want to come over for dinner tomorrow?” She’s over for dinner at least once a week these days. Her husband is a chef and always works late. I wondered if she would be tired of my cooking yet.
She agreed, and offered to bring dessert, and I set out to try and fit a 20 pound turkey into my roasting pan for the next day.
It was a lovely evening. We all enjoyed ourselves. And my friend who has continued to lament our imminent departure met some kind, lonely, grandchild starved neighbors and I hope they will be friends after we are gone.
But the best part of all was when Bill and his wife were getting ready to walk home and I expressed regret that I hadn’t issued an invitation years sooner. He got that look on his face that old men get when they’re trying not to choke up and said, “You will never know what it means to us that you invited us tonight. Thank-you so very much.”
And I suddenly found myself inexpressibly grateful for the inconveniences of shared laundry rooms and distant mailboxes because without them I am certain I would have never even noticed such lovely people living so close by, nor had the chance to become friends with them.