Why I Loved Having a “Lemon Neighbor” — and How to Be One

published Nov 1, 2022
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Back when we lived in Tallahassee and had the best neighbors in the world, we lived next door to P — my lemon neighbor. 

P’s first gift to us, right after we moved in and years before I got to really know her, was a tea olive plant, which still stands at the front entrance of our former front door. Her last gift to us was a beautiful last night in our old house. She cooked dinner for us one last time and then came over and fished through a whole bag of trash to find the necklace my daughter had somehow accidentally thrown away. (She found it. We cheered. My daughter said her necklace was more special than ever.) This is who P is. 

In between these gifts were years of getting to know each other and opening our hearts and homes to one another’s gifts. And of a running scenario with a lemon. 

The number of times one of us needed a lemon, didn’t have one, and texted, “Do you have a lemon?” is hilarious. It got to the point where our texts became, “I’m not kidding — Do you have a lemon?” and “You’re not going to believe this: I need a lemon. Do you have one?” 

Looking back, I see that this lemon exchange we had going on meant so much more than having somebody I could rely on for citrus. 

P could be my “lemon neighbor” because we became close. But this didn’t happen quickly. I was in the thick of having and raising babies when we moved next door. Consumed (in the best way) as I was by motherhood, our interactions with P were small but sweet. They added up, though. Wave by wave, hello by hello, our relationship grew, especially as the kids got older and I emerged from my fog of diapers and nap time. 

We really got to know each other when P shared her home with us by inviting us to use her pool. It was such a generous offer, and going to P and her husband’s pool became our primary summer activity (and our only social activity during the first summer of COVID-19). Many times when we’d come over, P would come out for a little chat. I treasured these.  

Credit: Lauren Kolyn

P let us into her space, and I felt comfortable enough to be in her space, even with my circus! I knew her care was straight from the heart with no strings attached. She was upfront and honest about the pool rules and her expectations, which put me at ease. I never had to wonder where I stood with P. 

P gave her gifts freely. She is a wonderful cook and started making weekly meals for our family when we welcomed our fifth baby. And she didn’t stop. She continued delivering chicken pesto or Tuscan chicken until well past my daughter’s first birthday. P was also a talented gardener, and in addition to sharing her gorgeous backyard with us, she helped me design and plant our new landscaping after we built an addition on our house. She shared not only her home and talents, but in doing so, she shared herself with us. 

So yeah, when I needed a lemon (or an egg or a teaspoon of nutmeg), I felt perfectly comfortable asking her if she had one. And when she needed a lemon (or a bit of parsley or some eucalyptus branches), I was delighted that I could help her for once! Our lemon-tossing was nothing. But it was also everything. 

This piece is part of Community Month, where we’re sharing the best ways to connect with, strengthen, and celebrate the communities you live in and belong to. Head on over here to see it all!