Needless to say, the young girl was very self conscious and embarrassed about her garden and how it was so different than everyone else's.
Very soon though, when the "ugly" vegetables were harvested and the delicious aroma of the Chinese soup that her mother made wafted throughout the entire neighborhood ... people for blocks were drawn to their home and offered flowers and garden vegetables in exchange for just one bowl of the spectacular soup.
We love this story, because it is a great example of cultural diversity and neighborliness.
As it turns out, our next door neighbors are from China and they don't speak a word of English. As it also turns out, our neighbors have a very extensive garden where they are growing an assortment of different fruits and vegetables. We've met our neighbors in passing a few times. This past year, we brought them an apple crisp and I tried to explain that it tastes REALLY GOOD WITH VANILLA ICE CREAM.
As I'm standing there on their front steps hand gesturing an imaginary scoop and plop, Charlie whispered, "Jen, they have absolutely NO idea what you're saying. Do they even have ice cream in China? I think they eat oranges for dessert..."
They brought us some luscious pomegranates. And we went over to their house again, on the Chinese New Year, to present them with a picture of a rabbit that Elizabeth had drawn.
And .... that about sums up our interaction.
Fast forward to today, when Charlie is downstairs trying to wrap up a report for one of his clients and I'm nearly horizontal on the couch trying to match up socks from a laundry basket that is overflowing with clothes. The kids are outside happily playing in the front yard.
If I haven't mentioned it before, we live in a very quiet neighborhood. Very, wonderfully, peacefully quiet. And the predominant reason we selected this exact location is because it is so very wonderfully, peacefully, quiet. With a cul-de-sac on one end and less than ten homes (predominantly occupied by retirees), on any given day, no more than five cars will drive by our house and two of them are the mailman driving down the road and then back again.
I could hear the children playing outside but then I noticed their voices had disappeared. "Surely they just wandered around the backyard and went down to the creek," I'm thinking to myself. But when several minutes went past and I still couldn't hear them, I went to the front door and looked out. The kids were no where to be seen. So I walked to the back of the house and looked out towards the creek and they were no where to be seen there, either.
"Well, they must be climbing trees," I thought.
So I went outside and walked around, calling for them.
My heart starts to beat a little faster when my eyes are scanning our property and the kids are NO WHERE to be seen. And there is absolutely NO SOUND which is highly unusual whenever there are four small kids around. So I run in to the house and summon Charlie and the two of us bolt outside and start calling for our little ones.
Echo. Echo. Echo. Echo.
Crickets. Plane in the distance. Birds chirping.
I grab the car keys and tell my husband that I'm going to drive around the neighborhood looking for them and he tells me that he's going to go in to the woods on the other side of the creek.
They wouldn't go on the other side of the creek because there are foxes over there and the kids would be terrified. And surely they didn't just wander off because they know not to do that and we've talked to them ad nauseam about not going in to anyone's house without one of us present and we've read books about Stranger Danger once if we've read them a million times and they know all about not being able to tell if an apple is bad just by looking at it and ...
I'm starting to fight gut wrenching panic.
Our children have vanished in to thin air.
As I jump in to the car and start to pull out of the driveway, I notice that our next door neighbor, over a hundred yards away, is walking out her front door. She is a small elderly woman, perhaps 85 years old. Directly behind her are three of our four children smiling ear to ear and carrying baskets of Chinese vegetables. They are walking out of the house, talking animatedly about SOUP as the woman just smiles and nods. She has absolutely no understanding of what they are saying, nor they of what she is saying.
They're all just chattering in the language of neighborly happiness.
I'm extremely relieved to see (three of our four) children, but also aghast that they went in to a stranger's house without us. For a long moment, I'm conflicted with how to respond. Yes, this is I'm sure, a wonderfully sweet neighbor. But what about all the books we've read?
And the stories we've told about children who have just vanished?
Have they heeded absolutely NO warning?
The kids come running up to me with chocolate ... chocolate? ... on their faces as Charlie goes in to the neighbor's house to retrieve Henry who was trying to climb under the master bed to pet their cat. The children are excitedly telling me how they had a piano that they PLAYED and there were all kinds of small glass STATUES and other FRAGILE things that they TOUCHED and suddenly, they catch sight of my expression and they can see that I'm troubled and oh oh.
They immediately start pointing fingers at each other.
Accusatory glances were shooting in circles, and ultimately landed on Henry who doesn't have the verbal skills to adequately defend himself. Our three six-year-olds concluded that it was their little brother who noticed the cat outside and then followed it in to our non-English speaking neighbor's house and the only reason they followed is because they had to save him.
When I asked why they didn't come straight home, they all explained, "Mom, they had CHOCOLATE DONUTS." And best yet, as they were concluding their rescue mission, they took a detour through the garden where they each picked several Sheau Hwang Gua.
Thank goodness our neighbor doesn't speak English because I imagine she'd be offended if she understood our children were gleefully referring to her vegetables as ugly, ugly, UGLY.
U-G-L-Y ... you ain't got no alibi you ugly!
I've decided that although I clearly need to continue impressing upon our children how it is NOT okay for them to ever go with someone without our knowledge, to reciprocate our neighbor's hospitality to my small crew, we're going to bring her another apple crisp.
But this time, we'll also bring her a carton of Hagen-Dazs and two dozen Munchkins.