Thursday, August 9, 2007

Neighbours and Friends

Our home sits on the dead-end of a small suburban street. There are just over thirty townhouses which make up our section of the court. Here, many of the residents are not just neighbours. We're friends.

I've often heard people reminisce about their childhood surroundings, fondly remembering how any number of moms or dads would keep a watchful eye on another's child lest they stray onto the road or into other dangers. The same parents would not hesitate to reprimand or praise a child in need of some immediate consequences or encouragement. That kind of memory is usually followed up with a sigh, and a lament that neighbours are nameless faces these days, sharing no more than a nod or a quick "hello" before retreating into their home or car.

Not our neighbours.

On our street, there are at least eight households that get together regularly, often by chance but mostly by design. On any given summer evening, one front yard or another will fill up with chairs as friends gather to share an impromptu meal. A barbecue rolls out and platters appear from various homes. Before we know it, we're washing down our unplanned, pot luck dinner with drinks that appear just as magically. Our street rule states that when offered a drink, any hesitation in responding is accepted as an automatic "yes." If you take the time to consider it, the drink is already in your hand. We've all learned to fire off a very quick "No thanks!" when we truly don't want one, preferably before the question is complete.

We've partied to celebrate birthdays, births, anniversaries and the departure of a university-bound child, and we've planned mini events such as fish fries and a ribfest. For the past few years, we've opted to spend New Year's Eve together feasting on lobster and other goodies. Since drinks are always flowing, there's the added security of knowing we do not have to drive home at the end of the night. Our kids tend to join us around midnight to welcome in the new year.

Other winter nights find us in one back yard or another, keeping warm in front of a toasty fireplace. The sub-zero temperatures rarely deter us from sharing a drink, a nibble and a laugh.

Extended family and friends are always welcomed into the group. Past neighbours, relatives, out-of-town guests and even ex-spouses have been known to join in and feel as if they're a part of our clan. It's incredibly comforting to know that in a pinch, we can trust at least a dozen individuals to care for a child, a pet or our home.

Ours is a neighbourhood that I am certain our children will remember fondly as they move on to settle into homes of their own. Hopefully they will find themselves living among a similar
family of friends.

Every summer over the past two decades, we have organized a combination street sale and party. Usually anywhere from six to twelve households participate in the morning-long garage sales and more like a dozen and a half families come out to party all afternoon and night. This year's party was held this past Saturday and the theme was Mardi Gras.

New Orleans-style music played while kids decorated masks, acquired tattoos, had their cards read, guessed at a number of jelly beans, created masterpieces with sidewalk chalk and visited a Canadian Armed Forces information booth (yes, my older son). After our pot luck dinner, adults exchanged "tacky gifts" and children received candy and specially-selected gifts of their own. We held a cash draw and named the winners of that, and of the guessing games. As night fell, musical instruments appeared on the street to keep us entertained.

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The Great Swami Pastrami dazzled our guest with his great card-reading talents. He kept his tonic (a mickey of alcohol) hidden in his shirt pocket and a whoopie cushion rudely defied its concealment beneath him. Swami surrounded himself with props which helped make his fortune-telling tasks a bit easier. A hand puppet gave younger children a candy once they had been told their pseudo-futures. Perhaps legal-age customers were treated to a sip of tonic.

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Costumes, masks, beads and boas sure helped to set the tone for silly, but colourful photos.

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Neighbourhood kids and guests show off their mask-making talents. The girls went all out with feathers and glitter glue, creating some very beautiful pieces.

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One little guy contemplates the Tacky Gift his dad received. Each year, the adults draw numbers and exchange these unusual gifts. The rules state that they may choose an unopened gift from the table, or "steal" a previously-opened gift from someone else. There are usually one or two gifts that are more popular than the rest. I don't think that this was one of them.

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The pot-luck dinner is always a feast. We have some wonderful cooks on our street and nobody ever goes hungry. This year's theme inspired Cajun cooking such as hot Louisiana wings and other chicken, seafood and rice dishes.

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Beautiful kidlet faces observe the surrounding activities with amusement.
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After dark the musicians emerged. The sounds of an Irish fiddler (a neighbour's relative who had just arrived from Ireland hours earlier), and a local guitarist (aka my younger son) encourages sing-alongs and hand-clapping.

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Simple tree decorations spiral in the breeze and offer a colourful contrast against the night sky.


Moby Dick said...

Am visiting from Frank's blog! Cool party!

Frank Baron said...

This looks SO familiar!

I think I must be psychic or something!

If that fat, long-haired, corned beef guy wants to give up the fortune telling gig, let me know.

Hilary said...


I thought your smiley face(s) looked familiar!

Thanks for stopping by. :)

Hilary said...


There's only room for one psycho.. err.. psychic on this street.. and you're it! AND you look great in purple! ;)

Crabby McSlacker said...

What a great party and great pictures! I'm not sure what it is that creates communities out of neighborhoods--some have it and some don't. I think most people have the potential to form bonds with neighbors, but it takes something special to bring that out in folks. I'm envious and admiring of your very awesome 'hood.

P.S.--Did you tell the fortune teller not to wear his pajamas bottoms outside except on very special occasions like this? He looks like the sort who might have trouble with this concept.

Hilary said...


Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. As with any relationship, there has to be a click. Many of us on this street just do.

I think our neighbour from across the street (Hi Kevin!) put it best a couple of weeks ago. He was introducing a few of us to his relatives, and started off mentioning us by name, saying "These are our neigh..." but quickly amended it to "These are our friends, who also happen to live on our street." That just about said it all.

As for the psychic pajama guy.. sigh! At least it's summer. You should see the "sweaters" he wears in winter! In fact, you can if you check out his blog post from December 12, 2005.

Hilary said...

Scroll down to Satroial Splendour at for those err.. sweaters.

Lois Karlin said...

Hi Hilary...I'm supposed to say Frank sent me. Altho I'm from the US I lived for 3 years - while my husband finished his PhD - in married student housing in Edmonton, Alberta. Ever since, I've missed the easy camaraderie of like-minded folks. I've found something similar in Warwick NY where I now live (although certainly not on my block). Are you guys off the grid or something? Or all living in energy-efficient houses or some sort of co-operative living arrangement?

Hilary said...


There's nothing all that different about our homes other than we occupy the dead-end of a small court, and we're in freehold townhouses. Other than that, it's just like any other street in Canada.. except for the neighbours of course.

I'm glad you stopped by for a visit and hope you'll return soon.

Anonymous said...

G'day Hilary,
Frank sent me ... but couldn't access your site in China .. what does that tell us about that? (lol)
Gawjus pics, gawjus people ... book me with the Salami In Jammies for August/Sept next year!
Love to you both,
p.s. Love this concept ... pics plus!

Hilary said...

Hi Zia,

I'm glad you stopped by. If you're here early next August, you'll be partying along with us all. I know because the Swami Pastrami sees all, and said so.

Thanks for the kind words.