Welcome to the Neighborhood
While busily engaged in this laborious tedium of unpacking and head-scratching, we heard the doorbell ring. After locating the front door (“I think it’s behind that tall ‘Allied Vans’ box with the fake nose and glasses poking out”) my husband negotiated the obstacle-laden living room in a splendid impersonation of O.J. Simpson jumping hurdles at an international airport. Vaulting the stuffed bobcat, skimming over my beloved art deco lamp, and leaping over the crosscut saw which bears a hand-painted Warholian rendition of some tri-color mountain range, my husband opened the door to be greeted by a warm blackberry cobbler.
Our neighbors one-street-over-and-two-doors-down had stopped by to welcome us with a home baked dessert made from berries picked fresh that morning. What a thoughtful gesture, and what an unexpected one in an era when social amenities requiring any real effort are becoming nearly extinct. With four moves in five years, this was the first time we had actually been welcomed into a neighborhood in any tangible form.
Well, okay, there was one man a couple of moves ago who came next door when he saw the moving van in our driveway and shook my husband’s hand and said, “Welcome to the neighborhood.” But that doesn’t really count. Sure, it was a nice gesture, and it did take some effort to come over to personally greet us. The only problem was that that was the house we were moving out of – not into – and we had been living next door to this man for almost eleven months by then. I guess he didn’t recognize my husband without the fence between them.
Neighborliness is, of course, a two way street, and although I am often guilty of negligence (and sometimes even manslaughter) of proper manners and societal protocol, my mother did manage to instill in me a few nuggets of propriety. One of them being: you never return a dish empty.
If you can successfully boil water, then you are overqualified to comprehend the utter despair I feel when faced with an empty dish – a dish that I am expected to fill with something edible. You see, when I should have been sitting in Mrs. Ramey’s home economics class learning to measure ingredients, I was instead perched on a stool in the shop building watching Mr. Moon demonstrate the finer points of disassembling a lawn mower engine.
To this day I’m not sure how much a “pinch” of salt is; and when a recipe calls for a cup of water, I never know if they mean a heaping cup or just a level one.
Given my shortcomings in the kitchen, I thought perhaps it would be socially acceptable to return the dish empty, and in lieu of poisoning our generous neighbors with well-intentioned burnt goods, I could offer to tear apart their lawn mower engine. Unfortunately, I never learned to put the darn things back together again, so my mechanical abilities would probably go as equally unappreciated as my culinary skills.
After staring prolongedly and futilely at the empty eight by eight inch baking dish for some spark of inspiration, I finally rummaged through the moving boxes to find my recipe books. I have about a half-dozen of them. The titles tend to include either the word “quick” or the word “easy” in them. But, alas, I possess no recipe book entitled “Quick and Easy Recipes for an Eight by Eight Inch Baking Dish,” so I was out of luck.
I finally settled on a recipe for brownies which I am baking in my 9 x 13 inch dish. While they are cooling on the rack, I’ll head out to the garage to find my chisel and sledge hammer so I can cut the brownies up and transfer them to the neighbors’ dish. I figure depending on the outcome, I can either tell my neighbors I have made charcoal squares (they may have household purposes, you know), or chocolate-flavored lawn mower engine gaskets.
And for everyone’s sake, I hope we won’t be moving again soon.
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