Gifts from my Neighbors


Sunday night, right after pizza with grilled peppers, we ate a second giant dinner.  At about 7:30, our eight-year old neighbor Jessie knocked at our door and said, "My dad wants you to come over for noodles."  This happens once every 6 or 8 weeks, and we have to go.  We want to go, no matter how close to the kids' bedtime or how utterly stuffed we are.  

We've been neighbors with Jessie's family (Hong, Van, and their four children) for six years, and in the last 2 or 3 years, we are finally friends.  Yancey and I were naive when we moved to the Rainier Valley 12 years ago, expecting to instantly be friends with all our neighbors.  We're the only Anglo family on the block, and Wyatt is one of 12 Anglo kids at his elementary school of 500.  There are very real and persistent cultural, economic, and linguistic barriers to forming community where we live, and it takes a lot more than just being nice and well-intentioned to build relationships.  Part of what we're discovering is that it sometimes takes eating two dinners.

Not that it's a trial.  Hong is an excellent cook and exhibits the kind of hospitality I aspire to.  He ladles heaping, tangled bowls of pho (Vietnamese noodle soup) and pulls out a case of cold Heineken.  Every five minutes, he proposes another toast and we clink bottles all around.  They show us their kids' good grades (all four are off-the-charts smart and accomplished) and always, always send us away with gifts.

This time, we carted home a sagging bag of mangos and oranges.  Hong runs an Asian grocery store in Olympia, and their house is always stocked with divine delectables.  These champagne mangos were the huge, supple, juice-runs-down-your-arm variety and were gone in 12 hours.  My kids grew a separate stomach for them.  I cannot overstate how perfect they were.  

The next afternoon, there was another knock at the door.  This time it was Van.  She smiled, nodded, and set a bagged chicken in my hands.  Chopped salad was on the menu for dinner, so I thought I'd roast up the chicken and we could have it alongside.  I slipped it out of the bag and about had a heart attack.  The head and neck flopped down against the side of the sink with a thwack.  The beak and beady eyes stared up at me, and I just wasn't prepared for company.  I think I may have screamed.  Which is so embarrassing.  I know where chicken comes from, don't I?  Clearly, I am a City Girl, and I'm admitting it to you.  In the era of "know-where-your-meat-comes-from," I have failed a major test, I think.

I managed to cut the foreign parts off and then noticed the claws were tucked up into the cavity of the bird--big, vicious looking ones.  I left them. I made broth out of the carcass later, and it was sinfully fatty and yellow. I strained the fat off after it chilled and my family had yet another variation of noodle soup when I was gone last night.  

Point is, living next to Hong and Van reminds me how giving and receiving cements relationships and how all of us need to be on both ends of that at different times .  And how food can make inroads when lots of other things can't. And how a white girl, no matter how hard I try, just can't find mangos like that to save my life.