Last night: the progressive party. All day yesterday and the day before: a neighborhood aquiver with excitement. "Are you going?" neighbors called to each other. "What are you bringing?"
The first time we attended this do was 11 years ago. We'd bought the house in the 'hood in November, and the real estate agent told us, "The neighborhood has asked that you attend the party. I think you should."
I'll admit, it put my back up. We specifically didn't buy in a "community" because I wasn't going to live in one of those gated monstrosities with cookie cutter abodes. I bristle at being told what color to paint my house, how many shrubs and what sort I can plant in my yard.
We'd liked the looks of this neighborhood. The houses were well kept and the kids were playing in the street. On a sunny November afternoon, people were talking to each other and working in their yards.
But to be ordered to a party...I'd just had a baby, sold my LA County house in an hour, and had two weeks to pack up a life and move it south while providing Christmas for my family.
It was ok, in the end. They got to eyeball us, we eyeballed them, everyone had some time to chat, and when, the next month, we moved in and it was pouring rain, we got offers of help from the houses around us.
No one told us what color to paint the house or how many shrubs to plant.
Last night, standing in the L family's living room, MH regaled me with the stories of delivering gifts to the old folks' home yesterday. I'd bought and wrapped a pile of bathrobes for her to take, and she had a great story about a lady who got one of the robes and was so pleased with it. MH was one of the people who offered to help us carry things through the rain 10 years ago, and I said to her after a bit, "You know M., we've lived here for almost 11 years now. I still feel like one of the new families, but we're one of the old families."
"I know!" she exclaimed. "It's so amazing that we now have little KM over there getting ready to have her second baby, and my youngest who was 6 months old when we moved in is going to be 17 next month."
"L. celebrated her first birthday in our house," I told her.
At that moment, C. came over. "Moby Dick!" she said. "I thought Moby Dick" and she held her fingers a half-inch apart.
"Oh, no," I told her. "Moby Dick" and I held my fingers six inches apart.
And we both laughed. C. and I trade books on a regular basis, and I'd just given her Ahab's Wife to read, and she asked if I had a copy of Moby Dick she could borrow since she'd never read that. I dug out my copy of Moby Dick on Friday, and laughed at my marginalia.
"Your notes in it are interesting," she commented.
"I'd just taken a class in literary theory," I laughed, "so everything was subtext."
"I brought eggrolls for you, A. Go eat one of my eggrolls. I miss you!"
"Let's go see a movie over Christmas," I suggested.
"I won't be back until January," she grumped. She and her husband are taking their daughter on a college tour.
"Okay, then first thing in January," I suggested.
She grumped again.
I talked for a bit with KD and PD, an older couple who I see nearly every day.
"Well, we get to actually talk to you about twice a year and catch up," said KD.
"Yeah, but we all wave at each other every day. That counts for something!"
I left for a bit to go and whip cream. I produced 50 buttercream frosting shots, and an almond cake layered with whipped cream. It turned out to be a good thing that I did two desserts because half the dessert people didn't show up this year.
At the W family's house, five people asked me for the cake recipe, and everyone laughed over the idea of the buttercream frosting in tiny papers. By the time I left an hour later, there were about ten left. Neighbor B, he of the appletinis and cosmos, allowed he was disappointed that I didn't think to put some alcohol in the frosting. I promised that next year, I'd whip up a batch of drunken frosting just for him.
"Here," I told R. "Frosting. Just for you."
"Oh no," she said. "I'm on a diet."
I plopped a paper in her hand. "Eat it! I made it just for you."
She tentatively took a forkful. "Umm. It's very sweet."
I laughed out loud. "You bet it is."
The spouse and I made our way out the door, and stopped for a few minutes to chat with TH and his new wife A. We shivered in the 40F temps, and laughed and talked about how gorgeous and crisp the moon and stars, and A. sweetly told me I was pretty in my lipstick, and I snickered and remarked how it's certainly a change from my mangy sweat pants. We talked about the joys of cold weather, having babies, the relative merits of dressing up or not.
As she and TH headed home, she suddenly hugged me hard and said, "I'm so glad we finally got a chance to talk."
I hugged her back, and said, "Me, too."
It was one of those moments of coming full circle, holiday party to holiday party, new family to old family.
We specifically didn't buy in a "community," one of those artificial constructs. We bought into a neighborhood, a place where, if there were an emergency, my kids could find safe haven at any house, and I can provide the same for others. When the son did his science project last year and needed volunteers for testing, the neighborhood rallied with glee, showed up to help him out and followed his progress to the state event with pride. As neighbors, we help each other out when necessary, and play together because we can. Our values are similar, though not always the same, sometimes we agree to disagree, and our approaches to life and the world vary, but we know the problems of the world can at least be discussed over a bottle of wine.
It is what community is really meant to be.
Go listen to some music: "Promises to Keep" from the album Christmas Eve and Other Stories by Trans-Siberian Orchestra.