When I moved in, Nancy became my life preserver. The elderly woman refused to allow me to stay locked up in the house next door. And that, of course, was exactly what I planned. I was running from many things - a broken engagement and a disenchanting life in the busy city.
My steps slowed as I neared Nancy's house. There were trucks at the curb and the ''for sale" sign bore a banner proclaiming the house sold. The Victorian had been empty through two seasons, but now with the summer almost gone, the leaves of the huge maple began to turn to gorgeous shades of red and gold.
Sitting on my porch, I observed the activity next door begin with painters and a roofer. My feelings were mixed. I missed Nancy, yet I was excited at the prospect of a new neighbour.
I remembered Nancy's first visit. She had brought the dish that day, filled with chocolate chip cookies. There must've been a secret ingredient in them, because I talked non-stop for over an hour. When we were done, with both the cookies and the conversation, Nancy refused to take the dish back.
"The sharing dish is an old tradition. When you need a friend, fill it with something good. That's how it works", Nancy said. "Guaranteed to open doors and warm hearts".
I found myself scouring the old family cookbook my mother had sent me. As I read the recipes and the scribbled handwritten notes in the margins, I recalled the carefree times of my childhood. I was able to remember the good things in my life and be grateful. The sadness and the emptiness soon faded.
One day at the end of the summer, Nancy broke the news that upkeep on the house was too much for her and she was going to live with her daughter and grandchildren hundreds of miles away.
While I understood, I would miss my friend. "What will you do with the house?" I asked.
"Oh, sell it I imagine. Neither my son or my daughter wants to live here. Its too slow a pace for them".
I understood, because once I felt the same way. Now it seemed that thanks to this small-town pace, somehow my life was moving along at the just the right speed.
When Nancy left, she entrusted the sharing dish in my care. I took the responsibility seriously. I filled the dish with brownies for a retired teacher at the end of the block. Muffins seemed the choice for another neighbour who'd just had a baby.
I never would've had the courage to get to know my neighbours without Nancy's dish. In the city, neighbours didn't know each other, in fact preferring that way. Everyone seemed to avoid eye contact. Here people were quick to greet you on the street.
Weeks later the work next door slowed down and fewer and fewer workers appeared. It seemed they'd finally finished. By now the leaves were beginning to fall and the last days of Indian summer were about gone.
One afternoon as I finished mowing my lawn, I noticed Nancy's lawn in need of attention and pushed the mower across the drive. I had just completed the small plot of grass and stood admiring my work when a pickup truck pulled up. Long, denim- clad legs stretched themselves and a tall man got out of the truck and walked toward me.
He looked the yard over approvingly. "You mowed my lawn?" The voice was incredulous.
"No big deal," I said, turning off engine.
"I'd forgotten how nice people are out here".
"Don't give me too much credit". I laughed. "I haven't gotten to the back, yet".
"The back is pretty big, and you've done enough".
"Well, you can borrow the mower anytime", I said.
"That would be great, thanks. Tomorrow?"
"Sure. If I'm not here, just go out in the shed and grab it".
He looked over at my house. "The McGregor cottage. I remember them. See that window up there?" He pointed to the dormer. "One summer my baseball sailed clear through it. Took me all the rest of summer to pay for it". He chuckled, making the corners of his eyes crinkle.
"Ah," I said, nodding. "You're from around here."
"Right down the block. We moved when I was in grade school. If I'd remembered how pretty the girls in this town were, I'd have moved back long ago," he said with a smile. A very nice smile.
The heat rushed to my face.
"You're blushing", he said. "I'd forgotten how country girls blush".
I took off my cotton yard gloves and stretched out a hand. "I'm Nicole", I said. "Not really a country girl. More like a transplant."
He grasped my hand warmly in his. "Nice to meet you, Nicole. I'm George."
A large moving van pulled up to the curb.
"I'd better get to work", George said.
"Need any help?"
"Nice of you to offer, but I have a crew hired. Thanks, though". He gave a quick salute and was gone.
Like any good neighbour, I sat on my porch sipping tea, reading a book, and observing the goings-on in the neighbourhood. A few folks stopped to chat with me, then wandered next door and offered the new neighbour a hand or an introduction.
The next day George was by early to borrow the mower. I was baking cookies. He tapped on the kitchen window and waved as he backed the mower down the drive.
I opened the window.
"What are you making in there?" George asked, sniffing the aromas from the kitchen. "It smells great".
"Cookies. Stop by when you finish mowing and they'll be done".
"You bet I will", he said with a grin. My heart stirred a bit and I reminded it to behave.
When George returned, the cookies were on the table. I poured iced tea and invited him to sit down.
He began to talk, telling me about how eager he'd been to move back and how dissatisfying city life was. "Especially city women", he commented with a wink.
"Hey, I'm a city girl".
"Oh, no. Not anymore you aren't".
I smiled, pleased at the compliment.
He finished a few more cookies before he stood to leave. I took the special dish, covered it with foil from the counter, handed it to him. "These are to take home".
"For me? Thank you. I'll take good care of this very pretty bowl".
"It's a sharing dish," I said, and explained the story attached to Nancy's dish. The clock on my mantle began its gentle count as I explained.
Was that Nancy's cookie recipe?"
"I suspect there's something in these cookies," he said, "because I just realized how long I've been talking your ear off".
I laughed. "Do you think so? I remember having the same thought myself. But I think it's just the sharing."
"Or maybe the company?" George suggested.
I blushed again.
"So, I'm supposed to fill this dish and return it to you."
"Or share it with another friend. Guaranteed to open doors and warm hearts."
George nodded his head thoughtfully.
A few days later as I knelt in the flowerbeds planting bulbs and mums, my new neighbour appeared.
"Need any help?" he asked.
"No, I'm almost done, thanks."
"Have time for a break?"
"Sure," I said, standing to wipe off the dirt and remove my gloves. "I have a few leftover plants, if you can use them."
"Mums. They take care of themselves".
"Okay," George said. "I'll give it a shot, if you'll help me''.
George turned slightly, hiding something behind his back.
"What do you have there?" I asked.
"For you," he said, handing me the sharing dish.
"I'm so impressed," I said, leading him into my kitchen.
"Don't be," George said, chagrined. "I was exploring the town and found a bakery."
"Wainwright's?" I said. "They have the most luscious"- I opened the dish- "eclairs!" I was delighted.
"My favourites," I said, sliding one out. "And what's this?" I pulled out a small yellow envelope from the side of the dish.
Glancing at George who avoided my eyes, I opened it. Inside were two tickets to the local high school's theatre production.
"Kids were selling them outside the bakery".
"How sweet of you. I'd love to go."
"Really? It's not exactly Broadway," he said.
"I'm sure it will be wonderful. I look forward to the evening. Thank you, George."
"No, I thank you".
"I was feeling pretty bitter and cynical until I met you. You've made me remember the good things about people. Life seems full of possibilities again". He smiled meaningfully at me.
I tried not to blush. "It's strange, isn't it?" I asked, musing. "I was feeling the same way, not so long ago. What do you think it is about this place? The fresh air? The soil? Nancy's recipe?" I chuckled.
"It's the sharing," George said.
"It's what we all need. Good friends, good conversation, and sharing. The sharing dish is part of that."
I smiled. "It's rather nice to continue the tradition, isn't it?"
"Very nice," George concurred.