Fifteen. That was the number of houses we counted as we drove slowly up our new street last Sunday toward our house at the end. Now, on Monday, that was the number of loaves of bread we were aiming to bake, to take to each of them and introduce ourselves.
As my daughter and I ground the flour and measured out the ingredients in a dance that's become automatic now, my mind ran the usual round of thoughts. Why am I doing this? What's the purpose? Do I really want to meet all these people? I'm not particularly fond of people in general, and it's going to be weird to show up like trick-or-treaters on people's front doorsteps. We'll look so silly, not to mention overwhelming (there are a lot of us, after all.) Is this really a thing that people do, or am I doing another one of those crazy things and all these people will think we're crazy? There's no reason I couldn't just move in up here at the end of this road and hunker down and never meet anyone on my street at all. Actually, that sounds nice. We'll just eat all this bread ourselves.
But then I reminded myself of this: You've got to create the kind of world where you want to live. It does no good to say, nobody in my neighborhood ever talks to me, if you're not talking either. Being at the end of a dead end street, we drive by every single house every time we leave ours. I didn't want to just wave at people whose faces I recognized by sight but never know their names. I've lived in silent neighborhoods before, and bemoaned their silence. Who did I expect to come and save me from it, I wonder now?
So we squared up our shoulders and went. We did look like trick-or-treaters, all clustered up at the bottom of each set of steps. Or like Christmas carolers, maybe. We rang each doorbell, and got the guarded, what-do-you-want faces of strangers. We offered our gift of butcher-paper-wrapped bread, with our phone number penciled on top, and explained who we were, and in seconds we got the smiles and relaxed shoulders of friends.
We met an older couple who have closed their restaurant but still run a catering business. They explained how working together with their children as they grew made their family strong. We met another homeschooler. We met a couple of families who have been here for decades, who explained to us how our area has changed over those years.
It took us a couple days (fifteen loaves is a lot of bread) to make it to the end of the road. By the second day, word had spread of what we were doing and the people we approached already knew our names, where we were from, and were waiting for their bread. We learned that all the properties on our street, now in lots with homes on them, had once been one giant peach orchard. We learned about the rodeos held at the equestrian center on the next street over.
At the last house on the street, an old man and woman stepped gingerly down their concrete steps to talk to us in the circle of the porch lights. We'd declined their offer to come inside. We're less destructive of trinkets and such if we stay out in the yard. After talking with us for a few minutes, the man shyly said that he walked the street for exercise every day, and the former owners of our house had said that he could walk up the driveway if he wanted. He only ever walked halfway up, but it added another 500 feet to his walk before he turned around. Walk on up it, I said. We'll wave if we see you.
The day after our first round of bread, I received a message on my phone. A lady down the street had heard that there would be a tornado drill in the morning, and she wanted me to be aware, so that "it doesn't frighten all those children." A text came later, with the caterer's phone number and thanks. A couple of days after that, the homeschool family dropped by with a bag of cleaning things and chocolate.
Yesterday, having watched the wind whip across our front yard for days, we got a couple of kites while we were at the store. The second we got home, the children tumbled out of the car, tore the packages off, and unreeled their ribboned treasures into the sky. It had been a long morning, so I sat down on a rocking chair on the front porch to watch. They shrieked and laughed as they launched their kites and crashed them and launched them again.
While they were out there exulting over their vicarious flight, I saw a little figure with a dog coming up the street. He reached our driveway and kept coming. It was our friend from the end of the street, taking his daily walk. True to his word, he shuffled about halfway down the driveway, then stood with his head back, watching the children's kites, his eyes shielded against the brilliant sunshine. He stood that way for a long time, then turned, called to his dog, and walked the other way. And I thought how strange that would have been if I didn't know who he was, if I didn't know his name. When I waved to him, it wasn't the tight, obligatory wave of strangers. It was the greeting of a friend.