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When I saw a group of my neighbors clustered on the sidewalk
in front of Mrs. Cho’s house, I was sure they were talking
It was a sunny spring evening, and I was heading out to
meet my friend Piper at a local bar. After work, I’d changed out
of my office garb and into a lacy tank top and short skirt, then
slipped my feet into a new pair of strappy sandals. A quick look
in the mirror to touch up my makeup and I was set.
Despite my efforts, it was a sure thing Piper would look better
than me, no matter what she was wearing—ironic considering
she’s the one who’s married with a baby, while I, on the other
hand, am currently and constantly unattached. Not her fault, of
course, but still annoying.
I’d pictured a brisk walk to burn a few calories and hoped
I might even collect a few admiring glances on the way, which
would have done my poor ego a bit of good. But springtime in
Wisconsin doesn’t necessarily mean warm weather; thirty seconds
out of the house I realized it was a little too chilly to be
without a jacket, and my hair was getting windblown. Worse
yet, I sensed I was about to get waylaid by the four neighbors
halfway down the block.
As I approached the group, Crazy Myra, who’d been leaning
forward to whisper something to Brother Jasper, straightened
up abruptly, like she’d been caught snooping in someone’s medicine
cabinet. The other two ladies—Belinda, the dog woman,
and Mrs. Cho—took a sudden, suspicious interest in a lilac bush
adjacent to where they stood.
My plan was to smile and nod, and then circle around them,
but I was stopped by Mrs. Cho, who grasped the fabric of my
top with her bony fingers. “Pretty,” she said. For such a tiny lady,
she had one hell of a grip.
“Mighty fine,” Brother Jasper said. And then he added,
“Lola, you look like springtime.”
Before I could say thanks and press onward, Crazy Myra got
into the act. “Where are you headed to, missy, all dressed up?”
“I’m meeting a friend for dinner.” The part about dinner was
a lie. We were really meeting for drinks, but I hated to say that
because it sounded trashy. I suddenly wished I’d taken Piper up
on her offer of a ride. “Don’t be ridiculous,” I’d told her. “It’s like
three blocks. I’ll meet you there.” Now I shifted awkwardly and
glanced down the street, hoping to spot Piper in her silver minivan
so I’d have an excuse to break away from the group.
At the office I’m known for having a take-charge personality,
but socially I’ve always been a little unsure of myself, and
these neighbors put me on edge. They were a little too eager
and a little too Stepfordish, always stopping by to offer me cookies
or invite me to the latest neighborhood gathering, none of
which I attended. If they noticed a candy wrapper on my front
lawn, they stopped to pick it up. If I struggled with heavy grocery
bags, they were right there to help. I’d lived in the house for
four months and still wasn’t used to it. Growing up in the suburbs,
we collected mail for vacationing neighbors or exchanged
friendly waves as we drove past, but there was no door-knocking
or favor-asking. Not that people in the burbs are standoffish. I
don’t mean to imply that at all—they just respect boundaries.
“Meeting a friend for dinner,” Brother Jasper said. “How
nice.” He was my favorite of the bunch, not too intrusive but still
friendly, always with a ready smile, his perfect teeth blindingly
white against his mahogany-colored skin. Still I steered clear
of him, always fearful he’d try to get me to go to his churchof-
the-folding-chairs with the Styrofoam-cup coffee social they
held afterwards. “We were just talking about our annual block
party,” he said. “I’m not sure if your aunt mentioned it? We raise
money for the shelter.”
“She might have,” I said. I’d inherited the house from my
great-aunt May, and everyone on King Street assumed we’d been
close. In truth, I hadn’t known her all that well; we’d crossed
paths at family weddings and funerals, and that was about it. I
was as surprised as anyone else when I found out I was her sole
beneficiary. Not that I’d turn down a free house in a great location—
just half an hour from downtown and blocks from the
“It’s quite an event,” Belinda said, gesturing wildly. Without a
leash or two to hold on to, her hands moved in spastic jerks, seemingly
involuntarily. “We get bands to play and have carnival games,
and there’s lots of food. It’s the high point of my summer.”
Somehow I didn’t doubt that. “How nice.”
“Last year best year ever,” Mrs. Cho said. “Two thousand
dollars, we make. All the neighbors work together.”
They looked expectantly at me. I was sure they wanted me
to volunteer to make balloon animals or do face painting, but I
wasn’t biting. “When is it?” I asked, thinking that the date could
exactly coincide with a trip out of town.
“See, that’s the thing,” Brother Jasper said. “We didn’t want to
plan it until we’d talked to everyone and made sure they were available.
We don’t like to leave anyone out.” He grinned again, the kind
of smile God must give you when he welcomes you into heaven. A
person would have a tough time resisting the warmth and goodness
of that smile. “Especially,” he added, “since you’re new to our
neighborhood family. We want to make sure to include you.”
He patted my arm, and I had to look down or I would have
promised anything. I’d wind up running the block party, when
in fact all I really wanted to do was extricate myself from the
whole damn thing. “That’s really nice,” I said in the direction of
my toes. “But I’m still waiting to hear about my vacation time
from work. Can I get back to you?”
I peeked upwards and saw all four of them nodding.
“Just let us know as soon as you hear,” Belinda said.
“Once we know,” Mrs. Cho said, “then we plan.”
Apparently the very existence of the block party hinged on
Posted September 20, 2012
My Review: I absolutely loved this novel. McQuestion captures the true essence of what Wisconsin neighborhoods are like. It seems like all neighborhoods are made up of; the nosey rosy neighbor, the mystery neighbor, the helper neighbor and the antisocial neighbor along with many others. McQuestion brings together a neighborhood filled with some unforgettable characters in an outstanding novel about family, love and friendship. When Lola inherits a house in the suburbs she has no idea what is in store for her. But her neighbors know things about Lola and her family and they all help guide Lola through her crazy day-to-day life. This lighthearted, enjoyable romantic comedy will have you rooting for love and will have you laughing aside Lola and her crazy cast of neighbors, family and friends.
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Posted January 5, 2011
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