Monday, 16 June 2014

Spread the Love

After 40 years of living next door to each other, my neighbour and I finally decided to throw a block party.
I had talked about it many a time with my husband but we had settled for an annual Christmas party instead, with immediate neighbours only, rotating houses every December (wow, that’s a funny image, especially if the rotating houses had Christmas lights on them). Now that our friend next door had agreed to partner, the block party was on, an alcohol-free, all-ages, afternoon block party, that is.

We composed a written invitation, trying to convey just the right tone of casual but enthusiastic appeal. Sue volunteered to make cookies and iced tea. I promised to buy pop and brownies. My husband agreed to help host and set up.
We chose opposite sides of our street and each delivered envelopes to 12 houses in a row, noticing for the first time who had fancy mail boxes, mail slots in their door, or front steps that were falling apart.
A week ahead we put up handmade lawn signs on our two properties that read “Remember! Saturday, June 7, 2:00”.  A couple of mystified passersby from not-our-block asked what they were supposed to “remember”. I told them they were welcome to join in but from their expressions I think they were relieved to keep walking.

On the big day, we draped our trees with crepe paper streamers, dragged lawn furniture out to the driveway and set out refreshments. The warm June sun shone cheerily between cool patches of shade from a tall linden tree.
Despite perfect weather, the three of us wondered who would turn up for our block’s first street party in living memory. We had been disappointed to hear that several of our closest neighbours were away for the weekend so we didn't know what to expect. 

At 2:00, a woman and man cautiously approached from up the road saying, “Are we the first ones?” We greeted them with relief and the party began. It was my very first conversation with the wife, who told me that even before meeting her husband, she had lived for decades just a few doors north of us.

Guests ranged from long-timers to newcomers. One middle-aged woman has lived on the block since her childhood, but the man who currently rents her basement apartment moved in only eight months ago. A young couple brought their little children who were excited to tour our backyards and to eat all the butterfly-shaped gingerbread cookies they wanted. Two teenage boys dutifully accompanied their very sociable Mom and Dad. A pilot stopped by before he had to don his uniform and head for the airport.
One person arrived with an unexpected plate of sweets for the table. Another couple surprised us with a “hostess” present: a bottle of wine to share and two pretty tea towels. 
For two hours there was a constant hubbub as everyone met someone new, and acquaintances had a chance to say more than a passing “Hi”.

We used the idea of “Neighbour Fan Mail” from one of the “interventions” at Toronto’s “100 in 1 Day” event, asking people to choose a recipient and fill in a brief form thanking a local business or a neighbour. The children’s aunt helped them sign one to a bakery that they frequent. One man chose a specific Starbucks that he enjoys. Several of us signed a communal note to our cheerful letter carrier. As people said goodbye, their hearty expressions of gratitude went well beyond token courtesy.

During the following week I had fun using up the extra fan mail forms. I wrote my appreciation to a neighbour whose spring garden had abounded with multi-coloured tulips, and congratulated the friendly management and staff of a nearby  diner. On the rest I thanked each of the attendees and then enjoyed walking through the neighbourhood for a final delivery.

The low-key party was a huge success; we three hosts felt gratified.
Remember those 24 houses on our block? Despite cottaging absentees, there were 26 neighbours at the party! Zowie!

Our simple happy gathering wasn’t the kind of deep communal connection that the Creator wants for the human race, but it seemed like a baby step in the right direction.
As Edward B. Pusey observed150 years ago,
God so loves us that He would make all things
 channels to us and messengers of His love.”
Even block parties.