Won’t you be my neighbor? Oh, wait. You already are!

Today’s post is from long-time Seattle area marketing communications maven Karen Cramer.  Karen and I got connected through the University of Washington’s continuing education program.  Karen recently had the most delightful experience indicative of what it means to ‘live warmly’ in one’s community.  I know you will enjoy this incredible story:

More than 15 years ago, my husband and I moved our young family to an old farming community northeast of Seattle in the sweet, beautiful Snoqualmie Valley. We’ve raised our children here, worked in the schools, and shoveled mud in huge ditches alongside other community members because someone’s farm house was in danger. We are grateful to have enjoyed countless pancake breakfasts at the firehouse, hamburgers in the cul-de-sac with neighbors, and the opportunity to bring Haunted-and-Hopped-Up-On-Sugar Halloween and Winter Fairyland to life each holiday season with treats, decorations, and lighting displays that rival the over-the-top traditions in Christmas with the Kranks.

The Snoqualmie Valley Trail at early fall.

The Snoqualmie Valley Trail at early fall.

We’ve contributed to and benefited from small town, highly engaged community life. The kind of life and engagement I envied and fantasized about as a child while we drove through little towns on the way to our next new home stop during my dad’s military career. We have considered moving countless times for convenience sake but worry about the deep loss we’d feel in leaving this community and the rich ties we’ve built over the years. That’s right, folks. We have it good.

The Seattle Freeze?

If you’d have asked me about the Seattle Freeze six months ago, I might not have taken the inquiry very seriously. Or at least not thought it applied in my world. And I might have given myself far too much credit. On a beautiful summer day this year – the Fourth of July to be exact – we were given a gift: an opportunity to experience what it means to open up to strangers, welcome them in, and truly invite them to be part of our lives.

Here’s what happened…

One of our favorite Fourth of July traditions is the charming, small-town parade that takes place just south of us along the river valley. Local scouts and veterans keep our focus on the real meaning of the holiday with flag celebrations, uniforms, and tributes to those forces that made the ultimate sacrifice. Farmers drive horse teams and wagons, collectible and everyday John Deere tractors, and trucks pulling wagon floats.  After local sports teams, cheerleaders, mariachi bands, dancers, stunt motorcyclists and politicians walk the road, the arrival of our dedicated firefighters signals the end of the parade.

Karen's husband and daughter enjoying their bike ride along the Snoqualmie Valley Trail.

Karen’s husband and daughter enjoying their bike ride along the Snoqualmie Valley Trail.

Because traffic often backs up significantly along the highway, a few years back our family began to ride our bikes the eight or ten miles along the river trail to get spots on the parade route. As an additional bonus we are often joined for various parts of the journey by others either out enjoying the nature trail or making a similar trek for the day’s festivities.

At one point during the ride this year, a really nice couple passed us but slowed to ask about the basket on my bike. They only recently had purchased their trail bikes and the woman said she’d been curious about putting a basket on hers but the salesperson told her it wasn’t feasible. I let her know how I found mine, and she seemed excited at the prospect of being able to add one, too.

Uncle Sam Stunt Cycler greets children during the annual Fourth of July parade.

Uncle Sam Stunt Cycler greets children during the annual Fourth of July parade.

The day continued on. We made it to town, enjoyed the parade, chatted with a ton of people we knew and didn’t know, visited our son who was helping to run sound in the park, stopped in on a friend’s new farm store, ate a hot dog from the stand in the park, and decided to head back.

We were just leaving town at the point where the trail crosses over the highway, when our daughter spotted some keys in the road. They were in a few bits having been hit by a vehicle. We debated about what to do so they might be found. Ultimately we decided to take them home with us, watching for folks who might have lost them along the way, and then post a found notice on the community Facebook page if necessary.

Here’s where it gets really interesting…

We weren’t very far along the trail, when I noticed the “basket lady” heading toward us without her husband and looking a bit concerned. We stopped and asked if she was okay. She said she was but that somewhere along the trail her husband had dropped their keys. Now this is the kind of moment that makes my heart warm and a huge smile break out on my face. We were so excited to tell her that we had them! She was beautifully gracious and thankful, eager to catch up to her husband and let him know their frantic search was over. We continued on our ride, reveling in the euphoria of having been able to help someone out and having this cute, serendipitous community connection.

Back in the parking lot we met up with the “basket lady” and her husband. The man thanked us repeatedly for helping them out. We let him know that it was just a wonderful coincidence and how excited we were that it worked out.

He asked for our contact information because he and his wife wanted to take us to dinner in thanks. We truly felt blessed just to have been in the right spot at the right time and let him know that there was no need for additional thanks. He was quite insistent, however, and told us, if we’d prefer, they’d take us out right then. If not, they wanted to take us out in the future. He was super kind but also super resolved. We elected to head to one of the local spots for appetizers and beverages.

And, the grand irony…

Mike and Mairi

Mike and Mairi

As we were getting ready, my daughter whispered we had seen the man before but couldn’t place him. Turns out they live in our neighborhood. Only about two blocks away. We pass their home each morning when we walk to the high school. We’ve marveled at the way they contribute to the neighborhood Halloween celebration with neighbors from many houses gathered together enjoying a fire and passing out candy while communing with each other. We’ve passed by on daily walks and enjoyed their beautiful home and yard. We’re neighbors!

We had a wonderful time getting to know Mike and Mairi better that afternoon and have since had the opportunity to cross paths several times. They are delightful people, wonderfully focused on the lives of their neighbors past and present. They are perfect examples of community spirit with neighborhood block and house parties, attending neighbors’ kids’ functions, offering to share tools, and keeping in touch with those that have moved away. They also were great sports about having their picture taken when I was invited to write this guest blog post.

We were given a huge gift that day

It was a gift that makes me ponder more thoroughly what we need to do to build intimate, strong communities. What we need to do to combat the Seattle Freeze not only here but I suspect other places as well . . . maybe we should rename it the digital freeze or the commuting freeze? It takes time to develop a tight-knit community. It takes commitment and intentional effort. Maybe it also takes being super kind while being super resolved to dig deeper and not be content with somewhat superficial interactions. Could it be that it’s nicer to be a bit insistent and not quite so careful about others’ personal space? Thanks, Mike and Mairi, for your neighborliness, your friendship, the lessons, and the encouragement to think about how we interact with one another.

Thanks for losing your keys!

 

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