The hometown neighborhood horse chestnut tree
Growing up, our neighbors had a horse chestnut tree growing in front of their house. I liked it when the spiny fruit would fall, splitting open and revealing the smooth, shiny brown horse chestnuts. Every autumn, I’d collect chestnuts that fell on the ground, carrying one around in my pocket like a little autumnal talisman.
Kids in the neighborhood (there were a lot of us then) would also use them as weapons, hucking the spiky green and brown projectiles at each other. We’re probably lucky that we still have our eyes, but it was (mostly) in fun.
We had that bond of living within a few blocks of each other that lasted as long as we were still children or before we moved away. One remains a distant friend; I last saw her at her father’s funeral, but we keep in touch. I haven’t seen or heard from the others in years.
Years ago, the neighbors cut the horse chestnut tree down.
I still look for horse chestnuts
In autumn, I still look for horse chestnuts. Once I picked up a couple at the Cimetière du Père Lachaise in Paris. There’s a tree in the area that Ollie and I walk past most days. I found three in my bag, the shine faded.
Urban neighbors are harder to get to know, I’ve found. Having Ollie helps; I’m friendly with the fellow dog owners. The neighbor in the purple house around the corner, who walks dogs for a living. Rocky’s human. Oscar’s.
The guy in the blue house across the street, whose elderly dog died last year; I don’t see him much anymore. Dog humans in my building, the nice guy moved into the apartment right below me, and the young women on the first floor.
Other than the guys at the café and a shopkeeper, though, I haven’t gotten to know too many other people in the two years I’ve lived here. Covid certainly hasn’t helped with neighborly connection. Students come and go, and I think that the long-term people wait to get to know people in this transient neighborhood.
Sarah, who I got to know when there was a plumbing mishap, and her (now ex-) husband Sam, an amateur DJ, moved. The couple on the second floor, who welcomed me to the building the day I moved here, and who had an adorable baby, moved. Not far, but far enough.
A couple live across the hall, and we haven’t spoken more than ten words to each other. One of them planted mums in a cute little container in front of the building; this makes me like her. Another woman lived across the hall, and I saw her three times in two years. She moved in August.
Neighbors and horse chestnuts
Getting to know neighbors takes time, and something shifted this weekend. I saw my old neighbors at the farmer’s market. Their son has gotten so big that he practically slid out of his stroller. My old neighbors and I had a nice chat. There’s nothing holding us together. I wouldn’t go out of my way to see them, but I’ll always stop to catch up when we run into each other. On my way back, I ran into the older man on the first floor and had a little hello. And then another guy from the first floor.
Friendly new neighbors moved in from Arkansas; they’ve already knocked on the door. Ollie and I went for a walk, and ran into a man putting up Halloween decorations in front of his house (that street is a Halloween hit with the kiddos). I didn’t remember, but he’d asked me about Ollie, as he thought he was a sweet dog. “We just got a puppy,” he said, “He’s a bit like yours.”
Ollie’s fan club continued down the street, where I ran into a gardener. Ollie got some skitches, and we had a chat. I love the garden he’s created—that’s how I got to know him. You’ve seen photos of it more than once in these weekly wonders. This neighborhood has started to feel more like home.
We passed the horse chestnut tree again this morning. I picked up one with two flat sides and stuck it in my pocket.
Snaps from the week.