In keeping with Valentine’s Day customs, I’d like to send a Valentine to all my friends and neighbors in a town that doesn’t always get its due. That’s right, this Valentine is to my entire Evanston community.
More than seven years ago, when I moved to Evanston to be close to family, I found a condo with a big picture window and an inside sill for the dog I hadn’t yet rescued.
Little did I know the condo building I found would offer much more than proximity to my biological family. It would provide the chance for me to join and create many new ‘families’ … within my building, down the block and throughout the town.
Everything about who my friends and neighbors are, and what they do, is commentary on the people who choose to live in Evanston. I often think about how lucky I am to live among such good people.
As you read this love letter, I hope it will remind you of the wonderful Evanston people and families in your life.
Condo life in community
If condo residents can create community, the residents who live in our condo have done it.
And my dog Casper may be one of the happiest beneficiaries. One of my neighbors said Casper “has the most remarkable quality of being the best at receiving love.”
One of my neighbors, who lost her own dog sometime ago, brings Casper to her apartment for Thanksgiving afternoons. And if I need someone to take care of him any other time, she is always there.
But she and her husband do more than take care of Casper. When the elevator in our five-story building gets stuck (and, unfortunately, that does happen), they are the first to send an email to everyone in our building, telling all of us they are available to bring packages, groceries, whatever, up the stairs for anyone who needs it.
Neighbors who moved in just recently offered, at our very first visit, to walk Casper if I couldn’t get out. And they’ve made it clear they are available to anyone in the building who needs their help.
One heartwarming dog request was from my neighbor’s 7-year-old daughter, who really, really wanted to give Casper a bath. After sudsing him up and then rinsing him off, she announced, with a big smile on her face, “This is even better than I expected!”
Nothing is better than having children in the building feel comfortable (and with their parents’ OK) to come down to my apartment in their pajamas just to say hello and pet the dog. And her father was a shopper for anyone in our building who needed that help during the worst months of Covid.
My neighbors who live in the ground-floor apartment share special Ukrainian dishes she and her mother-in-law make.
Some people might think close friendships can only exist in a community like ours if people have shared views. But one of my neighbors, whom I can count on completely, is a good friend even though we disagree on most political issues.
We disagree on politics, but we agree that a good heart is our most important value. I rely on her and her son for serious help, but everyone also knows he is willing to help out wherever needed. One of the nice things she does for me is to let me store my extra chicken soup and apple sauce in her freezer. And that’s high-price rental space.
Having a nurse in the building is a bonus luxury, especially one who checks up on people in our building without their having to ask. I am also grateful that her husband will take Casper out for morning walks even in the bitter cold.
Directly above me is our condo soup provider. Good cook, good neighbor and good conversationalist.
I have to add, almost everyone in our building enjoys sharing a cup of tea and warm conversation.
Even though all of us don’t always agree about to-do items in our building, or how tasks should get done, we all know the board president provides a transparent decision making process. That’s a big deal in a condo building where we all live together and share costs.
I like to do my part in our community too. When something needs to be done or someone needs help and I can do it, I am happy to pitch in. It’s just nice to be part of a circle of giving.
One door north of our building, I am lucky to have a neighbor who enjoys conversations about cultural topics, but also about childhood. His house is wedged between two condo buildings, and he has made it clear he wants to be part of our community. Good for us that he’s tall enough to change batteries in smoke alarms and makes a great guacamole.
A little farther north, I am happy to have extended family. I met a young couple from Italy on the first day they moved in to their condo, and from that first week we have been connected. Now they have an 8-month-old daughter, and, as long as I can pronounce the baby’s name correctly in Italian, I am the designated surrogate grandmother.
Their friends in the same building have become my friends too, and we have made it a tradition to celebrate birthday dinners together. She is a very good listener, and her husband is Johnny Appleseed. He bought a special box attachment for his bike so that he could buy, carry, plant and take care of trees in the neighborhood.
The corner house on our street, just north of the alley, has a big backyard, where the previous owner invited neighbors to use the yard with their dogs. When the new owners, a young couple with a little boy, moved in, I thought we might lose the yard space, but that didn’t happen.
The first time I met them, their 3-year-old introduced himself to me saying, “I do construction, and I have a stepstool. I can come to your house and do things.“ A willing neighbor already.
While he was playing with Casper on the second visit, his mother said, “You can bring Casper to play in our backyard anytime you want.”
If I walk just one block farther, a family offered their yard to our community for dog playing and even a backyard party. We condo people covet fenced-in yards.
Two blocks west of me is my sister and her husband, the reason I moved to Evanston in the first place. My sister is my go-to person. She is loving and generous and caring. And, needless to say, she is more than a little relieved that I have found my place in Evanston.
A block away, what I would call in my backyard, is Noyes Cultural Arts Center, a playhouse for one of my favorite community theaters.
My community extends beyond my neighborhood, because the community of Evanston is bigger than my neighborhood.
And this Valentine goes to that broader community. It goes to south Evanston, where I have a friend who goes to events with me, not even complaining when they aren’t so good. She’s the first person willing to hop on the CTA to come up to Noyes Street for a visit. And she has a list of older friends on whom she checks regularly, bringing homemade bread when she does.
Rock Steady Boxing is in downtown Evanston, and a boxer-trained Evanstonian volunteers to help the class of people living with Parkinson’s because she wants to make sure we exercise safely.
I have a good friend whom I met when I was playing senior basketball at the Levy Center. She doesn’t live in Evanston but wishes she did. It can’t be much fun driving an hour each way, at least twice a week, to be with her Evanston buddies. She keeps tabs on older Evanston basketball players too.
I also have my nephew and his family in south Evanston. They include me in all the holiday and family celebrations. It also helps that his wife shares her organization skills.
She helps her neighbors organize one of the best July Fourth block parties in Evanston. And he is a gourmet cook, willing to share the bounty of his talents. Their children are already being prepped to make Evanston their adult home.
My niece, who lives in London, keeps a condo in Evanston. She was well prepped at an early age to make Evanston her home, so she spends time here and in London.
And I, along with everyone in this town, have the community of the Evanston Roundtable. About a year ago I called to share an opinion. When they discovered I was a writer, one conversation led to another, and they asked, what would I like to do on the Roundtable? In addition to theater reviews, that’s how this Evanston Valentine got sent.
I am one lucky person to celebrate in such a community.
With best wishes that everyone has their Evanston community families,
Happy Valentine’s Day!
Thank you, Cissy—delightful essay!
Thank you for this Valentine! Smiles abound.
Love your article about Evanston. I feel the same way about my condo neighbors. They are all great people and all are willing to help with whatever comes along. However, I don’t have a cute dog like Casper.
We love that you are part of our Evanston family, Cissy!
Thank you, Cissy, for your LOVEly Evanston Valentine!
What a delightful, heartwarming story! I always look forward to anything Cissy Lacks writes — but this is a special delight!
Awesome Cissy—-loved this—-your optimism, love of city, family and fiends is a beautiful thing—-Happy Valentine’s Day!