I’ve lived in a cozy condo community in Tempe, AZ for about sixteen years now. The way it’s set up is in squares of units called “hamlets”. When I first moved in, I shared a wall on one side with an elderly woman. I would bring her cookies and foods I made and she gave me a painting. I was so sad when she moved out, not only to lose her, but to gain a houseful of young college boys who had never lived outside the dorms before. Eegads, I thought, sharing a wall with that.
But those boys proved me wrong and the various rounds of them, have been quiet and good as gold.
We have certain self appointed neighborhood watchdogs. It’s funny to call them that, because they all seem to be the dog-walkers. One of them lived across my back patio wall for years and monitored my comings and goings, once reporting me to the HOA for having a bucket in my carport, catching a leak from my outside faucet. She earned her nickname Gladys Kravitz. I’ve almost forgotten her real name by now, but have never called her Gladys to her face.
A few of months ago, I noticed that the rental across the parking lot from me had new tenants moving in. They were/are African American. I think there are at least a couple of young members of their family as they’re often on foot and, well, just look youngish to me. There also seems to be often comings and goings of friends. Now you see, we are in a small square of about 13 units so we have our own little microcosm in the community. This makes me feel safe, because people can monitor things, as the front of our homes all face the middle, where all of the parking is.
One day, a few weeks after our new neighbors arrived, I was checking my mail and two of the dog walkers were hanging out with their dogs, chatting. One started a not uncommon
tirade account of the comings and goings around the community. She, so casually, so comfortably, gestured toward our new neighbors and said “then we have the drug dealers over there” and rolled her eyes. I had been wanting to exit the conversation for some time before she even went there, and wasn’t feeling particularly feisty, so outwardly ignored her caustic words and went about my way. I felt gross.
It has bothered me ever since. I didn’t know what to do.
I made my sauce in my Instant Pot
Enter our new world we’ve landed in. We need each other more than ever. I’ve been mulling over how to approach this, how to extend myself to my new neighbors. It’s weird because, Phoenix is so incredibly lily white. In all the years I’ve been here, I’ve never seen a neighbor of color in our hamlet. Well, at the beginning there was a mixed race elderly woman who died in her home, just months after I moved in.
I’ll admit it, this should be an easy fix, an easy dilemna, I was facing and I’m no shrinking violet. I just felt oddly stumped. Like if I highlight their “blackness” in the neighborhood, I’m singling them out, but at the same time, it is what it is. I don’t even know if I’m expressing my awkward confusion accurately here. I thought about giving them a note saying “Your Lives Matter” but even that, I don’t know, I wondered if it was inappropriate, an instrusion in some way. Do I as a caucasian woman have a right to speak to what I’m guessing might be their vulnerability? Is that offensive in some way? I just didn’t know. I’m just thinking out loud here, documenting my awkwardness at this task.
But I didn’t give up until I landed on something that felt like an appropriate opening. I was not going to give up. I share this because I think well-meaning people like me, might give up out of that kind of awkwardness. And I’m the last person on Earth who should feel that way, since I was the only child in my 3rd grade suburban class who raised their hand to be voluntarily bussed to “the black neighborhood” for 3 years of grade school. Martin Luther Kind was my Hero. Why am I feeling this way? I kept thinking. Is this some form of racism?
Yet, I was still riding this line of reaching out while not seeming condescending. I guess that’s the best way I can describe it. How do you include someone while not highlighting how they may or may not even not be feeling excluded? Enough of my inner conflict.
I just decided to make them a lasagna. In fact, the Worlds Best Lasagna.
We made it for NYE this year and it was so delicious, how could anyone not like it?
So today I got up and devoted basically my whole day to that lasagna. I thought of my neighbors shopping in my neighborhood stores, wondering if they ever feel out of place in this hyper-caucasian suburbia. I wondered if they ever feel unsafe or are on the receiving end of racism in our very community. Well, I know they are, I just wonder if they feel it. Even thinking about that, is heartbreaking to me, which may be part of my awkwardness.
So today, I finished my lasagna and packed it up with a long baguette and walked in the dark across the parking lot, to their dark door and rang the bell.
A young woman answered and I simply said “I haven’t met you yet and I live across the parking lot over there so I made you a lasagna to welcome you to the neighborhood. Sorry I’m so late but I just wanted to do it”. I had placed a sticker on top, where I wrote my name and the address of my unit.
She smiled, was very gracious, introduced herself as Jada, told me her Mom was upstairs asleep and that her name is Loretta. She told me she’d come over tomorrow to thank me.
To keep it real, I felt a bit nervous. Nervous that I might weirdly offend them somehow. I don’t know why I felt that way, no one made me feel it, but it’s the truth. I pushed through it and did it anyway. And I’m glad I did. Thinking about this now, I would have felt more comfortable at a Black Lives Matter March, anonymous in the crowd, than this gesture of intimacy with a neighbor. I’m not justifying my feelings, but simply trying to do my best to describe them.
I think most everyone likes lasagna. Instead of bringing it for a funeral, I decided to bring it as a bridge. So I’d like to start a movement “Make a Lasagna, Make a Friend”.
I’ll post the recipe here and the link as well. Click right here for it.
I’m ending this day satisfied. And I’m hoping Jada and her Mom and any of her friends feel it too. And I’m hoping my lasagna bridge spreads far and wide. I hope I get to know my neighbors better. I hope I did it right.
Maybe next time, I’ll get even more ballsy and make one for someone who voted for the candidate I did not vote for. Right now, that feels really, really hard. But I’m not afraid of hard things.
Join me in my Lasagna Movement?
What’s on sale near you.
- 1 pound sweet Italian sausage
- 3/4 pound lean ground beef
- 1/2 cup minced onion
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1 (28 ounce) can crushed tomatoes
- 2 (6 ounce) cans tomato paste
- 2 (6.5 ounce) cans canned tomato sauce
- 1/2 cup water
- 2 tablespoons white sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil leaves
- 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 4 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
- 12 lasagna noodles
- 16 ounces ricotta cheese
- 1 egg
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 pound mozzarella cheese, sliced
- 3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- Add all ingredients to list
2 h 30 m
3 h 15 m
- In a Dutch oven, cook sausage, ground beef, onion, and garlic over medium heat until well browned. Stir in crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, tomato sauce, and water. Season with sugar, basil, fennel seeds, Italian seasoning, 1 tablespoon salt, pepper, and 2 tablespoons parsley. Simmer, covered, for about 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally.
- Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Cook lasagna noodles in boiling water for 8 to 10 minutes. Drain noodles, and rinse with cold water. In a mixing bowl, combine ricotta cheese with egg, remaining parsley, and 1/2 teaspoon salt.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).
- To assemble, spread 1 1/2 cups of meat sauce in the bottom of a 9×13 inch baking dish. Arrange 6 noodles lengthwise over meat sauce. Spread with one half of the ricotta cheese mixture. Top with a third of mozzarella cheese slices. Spoon 1 1/2 cups meat sauce over mozzarella, and sprinkle with 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese. Repeat layers, and top with remaining mozzarella and Parmesan cheese. Cover with foil: to prevent sticking, either spray foil with cooking spray, or make sure the foil does not touch the cheese.
- Bake in preheated oven for 25 minutes. Remove foil, and bake an additional 25 minutes. Cool for 15 minutes before serving.