I currently live in a Victorian row house, one of 7 individual-yet-connected residences. Though each of our units is independently owned, my neighbors and I could *technically* claim we all live under a single roof.
This three-story building, built on a leafy Evanston avenue in 1897, has been my home for nearly 20 years. It's the place I've lived the longest in my life, the place I helped to raise 3 children and 3 dogs, not to mention countless ruckuses, stakes, questions and standards.
My home has been an anchor, particularly as my life and circumstances have transitioned. The walls between our units have often offered me protection, at times, and especially when I've yearned for peace and solitude. Yet, just as often, these walls between our lives let in just enough human sound so as to remind me that I'm never, ever truly alone.
The other night, while reading quietly in bed, I heard (as sometimes happens) my next door neighbors' laughter. I rarely hear sounds from the other sides of my shared walls, though when I do, it comes from one of two very distinct sources: a vacuum cleaner or human laughter.
This night in particular, as I heard my neighbors' voices, I was drifting off after having finished a lovely book. I barely heard their voices, so soft and muffled. I might not have even heard them had my ear been fully covered by my comforter. At first, I pulled back my covers, listening, asking if I'd really heard what I thought that I'd just heard. For the next good minute, I heard nothing at all, and resigned myself to thinking I'd imagined the sound.
Then, another wave of uproarious, simultaneous laughter -- undoubtedly the two of them, laughing from their bellies. I smiled, fully covering my ear, imagining them sitting before a TV monitor, perhaps with popcorn, a glass of wine, and maybe a foot curled underneath a butt. For a split second, I remember their agonizing loss one year, how they endured it with such strength, and how deeply it impacted all the families in our neighborhood. And as I cozied my head, deeper into my pillow, I pictured their smiles today, smiling to myself knowing they just kept going.
I love my neighbors, I thought. I really hope they know this.
My next door neighbors are not the only ones I appreciate. I have so many neighbors to feel thankful for.
Every July, for the past fifteen years (hmmm, and maybe, perhaps, even more?), my neighbors and I have thrown a day-long block party in the street just outside our front doors. It's been a magical way to spend time with each other, and I look forward to the party every year.
We held the first one when my kids were very little, just after my eldest returned from a friend's block party. "Mom!" my son said, as I tucked him into bed that night. I believe he was still in preschool at the time. "We got to ride our bikes...alone...in the STREET!" With blisters on his feet and exhaustion in his eyes, I don't think I'd ever seen him so happy. And that's when I knew we'd need a block party of our own.
It wasn't a difficult event to pull together. Then again, not every neighborhood pulls together like ours.
All it took was one email asking neighbors, "Who's IN?"
Before we knew it, every hand was there on deck.
Each year, since then, kids dart all over our closed-off street, on bikes, on scooters, on their own yet right with us. The tetherball poll each year goes up, and tape is laid down for the foursquare players.
Families gather for the massive water-ballon toss. Contests identify the neighborhood's "best": hula hoopers; limbo masters; blueberry pie eaters; and scavenger hunters. Police and Fire Department personnel show up, allowing kids to blare their sirens and climb through pumper trucks. Fire hoses -- connected to the neighborhood hydrants -- spray the rosy summer cheeks of our gleeful crowd. It's a pretty idyllic scene, I must say, and it's always a highlight of my Evanston summer.
It's only April now, yet I'm already dreaming of this year's Block Party -- and of all the preparation it typically requires. By now, the event practically runs itself, though I love the way it requires "checking in" with the neighbors as we check off our to-do lists for the big day, filled with as many questions as memories from parties of years past:
•Did someone file for the permit with the City?
•Who's ordering the traffic horses to block off the street?
•Do we really need a portable toilet this year?
•Does anyone know anyone willing to play music this year? They can set up on the Harrises' driveway.
•Will that one family lend us their A/V equipment again, so we can play a movie at twilight?
•In whose garage did we leave the pop up tents last year?
•Who made that smokey potato salad last year...and can we please triple the recipe this time?
•Can you believe it's only rained once since we've done this? Do you think this year's the one we get doused?
•Who made those photo memory boards last year, and will they (please) do it again this time?
•Did Tim make the no-parking signs last year (of course he did!)?
•Is so-and-so actually selling her house this year? If so, can will still run electricity off her porch for the bounce house?
•Is someone in charge of filling the water balloons?
•What are we charging guests to cover our costs? We only pay for the keg...the contest prizes...pizzas for the kids...popsicles...oh, wait, hot dogs... lemonade...
•Are wristbands too tacky to show who's paid?
•Can Becca still get ice from the restaurant where she works? If so, who's got a cooler to throw in her car?
•Wait...who's monitoring the bounce house this year? The local Girl Scouts probably won't do it again ...something about the big kids getting a little too crazy...
Every year, we pretty much ask the same questions, and every year, the party is such a blast. I have confidence this year will be absolutely no different.
I know how lucky I am to have such wonderful neighbors.
I really, really do.
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