Monday, April 5, 2010

Fire Pit Friends

I noticed her in the first few weeks we lived in Utah. She seemed younger than me by five years to a decade and from what I could decipher, she had a couple of her own kids and babysat a few extras. They all romped around in her small front yard in the afternoons, while they waited for the parents of the extras to arrive. I wasn’t spying on her, I promise. It’s just that when I was in the kitchen and our garage door was open, I could see their yard just across the street. Every time I opened the back door to throw out trash, check on my kids, or just get some fresh air, her shiny, blonde hair caught my eye.

And then we finally met. I got brave (or maybe tired of unpacking moving boxes) and wandered across our quiet street to introduce myself. Her husband had joined her that day, and they sat side by side enjoying the bright Utah afternoon sun. Kids were crawling up and over both of them as I drew near and it gave them a sense of approachability as I gathered up my courage to say first hellos.

As it turned out, that day I met the two people who became probably the best couples friends we have ever had. Almost instantly Laura and I were swapping kid stories and sharing recipes. Not long after, her Jeff and my Jeff began consulting each other on household projects and commiserating with each other about those annoying honey do lists.

Because they lived across the street, not even a true stone’s throw from us, it was easy to get to know each other. I knew her schedule and often set up my day so I could spare an hour sitting on the grass with her as she waited for the babysitting parents to arrive. In the evenings, after dinners were made and cleaned up, we often met on the patio behind their house, gathering around their small fire pit when the sunset brought along with it the chilly night air.

We laughed and told stories we hadn’t told in years. Tales from teen years and the crazy early twenties, when life seemed so much easier and much less expensive. As darkness settled around us, and children were all mixed up together on their swing set and bouncing together on their trampoline, we opened up and shared more personal things. These two people understood how we ticked, good and bad, and the ease of our friendship made spilling secrets easy.

For three years we grew close to this family across the street. We watched Laura’s belly grow with their third pregnancy and welcomed their new baby girl into our fold like she was our own. That same baby took her first steps after letting go of my daughter’s hands and toddling to Laura down the sidewalk in front of our house.

Their only son and our youngest son were almost exactly the same age. They became a dynamic duo that easily flowed from their house to ours, in the search for their next adventure. Our daughter’s first baby sitting experience came from hanging out across the street while Jeff and Laura enjoyed a rare dinner out alone. We even spent one Thanksgiving holiday together when their extended family situations were complicated and ours were too long distance.

So it was with great sadness that we gathered around their familiar fire pit one night and had to tell them our big news, we were moving to New York. Mostly it was a good move for us but when it came to leaving behind these precious once in a lifetime friends, it was truly heartbreaking. Hanging out with them for the years we’d lived in that gorgeous western state had been a gift we’d never forget. But for many reasons, it was time for us to move on.

We’re still in touch with Jeff and Laura. Facebook has become a wonderful way to still see their children’s smiling (older!) faces as the months and years continue to pass. We just may have a teenager headed back to Utah for college soon and I will seek out the fire pit I came to love when we fly west for college scouting trips. I know it’s still there, just waiting for me to return.

And I’ve learned a lesson. Life gets pretty busy and finding time to get to know neighbors can be a miracle. It is now possible to live in a neighborhood for years and not know who lives in the house just two doors down. But our moving boxes are unpacked once again and it’s time to make the effort again.

I will put lawn chairs out on our driveway and find time to sit in them this spring and summer. Maybe we can catch some neighbors, some I know, some I still need to meet, and convince them to pause on their afternoon walks to sit and chat a bit.

Because I’ve learned that you never know who might be living just a stone’s throw away. It might be the best friend you’ve ever found. And good things can come from making the time to say the first hello.


jennifer said...

So poignant! If you have just a handful of good friends in your life, you are rich.

I hope you strike gold in your new neighborhood as well...and good for you for trying. We have neighbors who are the epitome of the cliche "they keep to themselves."

terry said...

I loved this beautifully written piece. And I have missed you my friend.

I have a new friend in the neighborhood and we meet some even outside of our homes right at the waters edge and we talk and laugh.

It feels like a little bit of heaven.

But then, so does reading your post.