I want you to be concerned about your next door neighbor. Do you know your next door neighbor? Mother Teresa
Last Sunday afternoon was the fifth year of the Annual Block Party. Attendance, as it is every year, was grand and moods were happy. Salads reigned as this year’s popular food of choice, the food of much, the food ever so good. Six chickens – Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail, Jennifer, Element, and Moira – who range free with our hosting neighbor, joined in the party. As people arrived, the lawn chairs naturally formed in a circle. Conversations easily began with those on the right and left. Soon the conversations darted and dashed across the middle.
We have watched the children grow up. One just graduated from high school. He tells us of his summer work and college plans for fall. Our youngest neighbor is two and captures the delight of all in the circle. As she warms up to the faces, familiar but not necessarily well known, she giggles and plays with joy. She entertains all our hearts.
A neighbor with a camera problem finds a solution in the hands of photographer, Don. A neighbor who has trouble walking is measured for a walking stick. Our seventh grade neighbor is lovingly creating it from a special tree branch he found. Yet another neighbor has rhubarb to share. Arrangements are made for the distribution of a dozen eggs from our friendly chickens. The older kids leave the circle to swim in the neighbor’s pool that is within sight, just two doors down. Wedding and honeymoon photos are shared by our newest neighbors while our oldest neighbors share that they just celebrated their 60th anniversary and renewed their vows. The neighbor with the annual garage sale announces that this is the last year and there is relief in her voice. The neighbor across the street shares plans to camp next week in our well-loved six person tent that we passed onto them.
This annual gathering of households brings indescribable joy to my heart. It has not always been this way. For so long I yearned for this connection. After living here in the middle of the 600 block for twelve years, it was time for a block party. Two families had just moved in which helped to prompt the action. As we saw neighbors in the yard, we asked of their interest in a gathering. A resounding yes was heard, a date was set, and the party was up and running. An invitation was hand delivered to each house with the basics – when it was happening, what to bring (two foods, own beverages, and chairs) as well as a request to return the ‘yellow sheet’ with as much information about yourself that you wished to reveal to these ten households. Our intention was to compile a list, assisting us in being neighborly and supportive to each other. We requested the names of family members, ages of children, ways to contact by phone and/or e-mail, and the year they moved into the neighborhood. All ten households contributed and without hesitation.
That first year they came with their rich stories of their hobbies, places they had previously lived, why they chose their house, and upcoming events in their lives. Those who had lived in the neighborhood the longest had stories of its earlier days, as well as the people who used to live in the houses now well loved by each of us. We discovered each other in a new way that day. No longer were they familiar but unknown. Now each had a name we knew and could use in greeting one another. We had a list of resources close at hand – a master gardener, a knife maker, knowledge of paranormal sites in Wisconsin, artists, garage sale organizer, a geologist, athletic competitors, dog training skills, child care owner, highway patrol dispatcher to name a few.
We are a neighborhood rich in the stages of life. Retired couples, newly married, families with young children, families with teenagers, second marriages, a single parent. Each house is architecturally different, just like us. Five houses on one side. Five houses on the other. A wide quiet street plays host to our mailboxes. We are a community one block long. Once neighbors. Now friends.