Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Neighborhood Celebrates Night Out

We had not heard of it before, but the concept sounded great: National Night Out.

Basically a block party. We could walk to a nearby house, meet the police chief, see the motorcycle and K-9 patrols and check out the fire truck. Oh, and free food.

We circled the date on the calendar and planned to attend. Our enthusiasm, free food aside, stemmed from a chance to actually meet more of the people who lived in our little neighborhood. Not being gregarious people who walk up to someone's door uninvited, we knew only the people who lived adjacent to our property. All lovely, generous, interesting people. Yet many more houses remained a mystery to us. Who lived in them, where did they work, did they adhere to similar goals and morals as we did, would they like to be our friends?
Our next door neighbor told us about the sense of community they all discovered following the year that four hurricanes hit the area. They brought out foods, defrosting because of lack of electricity, and had a big cook out, sharing food and drink and whatever they could. They helped each other clean up their yards and make repairs and when they returned to their homes, they all had bridged the initial get-acquainted hurdles that stood between them in the past.

So we watched the clock and followed the signs to the designated party central, hoping that something similar could happen for us. We weren't disappointed.
We met so many lovely people. We talked nonstop and people gathered around my husband in his wheelchair without hesitation. They didn't pester him with questions about 'what's wrong with you' but rather 'which house do you live in?' or "Where do you work?" or "Do you want more to eat?"

We asked similar questions, learned names and quickly forgot too many of them. Our brains couldn't handle the overload of friendly faces. We'd live in a neighborhood for so long where we encountered only a few people, that we were in a bit of shock.

One woman and I exchanged names and phone numbers -- wrote them down so that we could get together, maybe walk together around the neighborhood. She took me in her house to find paper and pen and I looked around her familiar kitchen -- all of the houses in the development are similar. But hers was so tidy. So clean. So well decorated. And the furniture was stunning. I couldn't wait to get home and start cleaning and throwing things away and putting my own house in order.

Since that night we feel ourselves becoming part of the community. If we forgot names, we remember faces. We'll wave and smile and know these are good people who live here the next time we see them. We'll wave and smile at Rose as she takes her walk cloaked in her ankle length overcoat and wide brimmed hat and oversized sunglasses. We'll know she has sun allergies, is allergic to bee sting and lives alone -- a widow.

My husband and I grew up in small farming communities where everyone knew everyone else and had been neighbors and friends for generations. We 'belonged' and had never really thought that our lives would be otherwise. Then we began moving with his job and suddenly we were 'outsiders' and isolated and not equipped to find our way inside. Until this party.

The object was to acquaint us with service providers in the community, help our neighborhood become more aware of the people living around us. But for us, it planted a sense of community that we hadn't felt for far too long. Mom always says 'bloom where you're planted.'

We both began to 'take root' as we stood surrounded by friendly faces and neighbors who truly welcomed us to the community.

And we thoroughly enjoyed the grilled hot dogs and chips.