My mom has a way of making any intersection of concrete car paths that surround wooden domiciles into a neighborhood. Every place we’ve lived, she’s drawn people from their homes and connected them with the other unknown hermits living next door. After these block parties, no longer were houses filled with faceless bodies, but with folks who shared holiday recipes and lawn care tips.
I was reminded about her rare gift this past week as I helped a cowork set up for a dessert appreciation party. I thought I was just going to drop off items and go, but I soon found myself setting everything up alone instead. I could tell that what I saw as a simple task of arranging food on a table was as foreign and scary to my coworker as middle schoolers asking a classmate to the eighth grade dance and then also going to said dance.
While I was happy I could help her in her time of need, it got me thinking about how much I have learned from my mom over the years about hospitality and hosting. Not to say that I have picked up her gift exactly. My extroverted tendencies have not yet found a way to overcome my introverted and lower-confidence leanings in order to ask random people to my house. But in terms of my skills with arranging a table and creating an inviting place, I owe a lot to seeing her (and being her minion for) setting up these neighborhood parties.
Now, I know my spreads may not make the cover of Martha Stewart Living, but I think the lack of magazine-quality perfection actually makes people feel more at ease. Rather than feeling like they are in a corporate showroom, people remember they are in a friend’s living room. The focus is less on the objects in the space and more on the people who fill and use them. And isn’t that what the point of the party is all about? Giving people the space to make connections and get to know one another?
Our own neighbor Ricky is similar to my mom in his ability to make you feel like you are a part of a larger family. Just this afternoon as I walked down an adjacent street, Ricky spotted me and asked if I knew our cellar door was open. I had no idea, and as I turned to head back and close it, he said, “No worries. I’ll take care of it.” And this from a man who exudes being the stereotypical Boston native.
Indeed, his neighborliness knows no bounds. From helping clear sidewalks after snowstorms to freely offering his gardening tools and grill, it was he who helped us move in our couch that was just too long and too wide to fit up our stairwells or go through our door frames. Upon seeing us struggle, he simply and quickly came over with his thirty foot ladder and crowbar in order to help us tackle the job.
As my husband and I have thought about what kind of house we want and where we would like to settle down, I find on my “must” list neighbors like my mom and Ricky. I want folks who want to know who is next door not simply for gossip, but to engage with one another and help each other out when needed. Like if I need someone to take in a package if it arrives when I’m on vacation. Or who will say something if my headlights are left on. Or who will help out my kids if they frantically show up at their door because they frightened themselves into thinking a burglar was outside when they accidentally setting off the house alarm. (Not that I did this last one or anything.)
I know I won’t be able to survey the neighborhood with regards to this. Only by living there will I know if I’ve won the jackpot in this category. But as I learned from my mom, I also know the cliche answer is true, too: it starts with me. If that’s the neighborhood I want, I need to do what I can to help create that environment.
And so I want to make a renewed effort in our current location. While past conversations with neighbors have left me feeling isolated, not talking with them only furthers that distinction. So rather than pretending not to notice neighbors for fear of awkward conversation, I want to speak with them, wave to them, shovel their driveway entrances when snowplows block them out. It will mean taking risks, being open to being rejected and to not being included. But I will also never be included or turned to for help if I never take the step of opening myself up either. And such lack of community is not what I want for me or my future family.
With such great examples of neighbors to guide me, too, I know that by looking to them, I will be able to make those changes and help make our own patch of grass and concrete into a neighborhood. Won’t you join me? Won’t you be my neighbor?
What do you do to help make your area a neighborhood? What are some amazing things your own neighbors do?