SideLines: An unexpected moment of community

It was an amazing night.

I was sitting on my back deck, reading an old Colleen McCullough novel I had been putting off for way too long, when all of a sudden the whole neighborhood seemed to come alive. People I only see periodically and whose names I don’t know came out of their houses like it was the Fourth of July.

Only it wasn’t.

A few doors down, a father and his son played catch on their front lawn, something I had never seen them do before. A hip-hop song blared from their black Ford parked at the curb. Not too far from them, two teenage boys worked under the hood of a rusty, red van in their parents’ driveway, cracking jokes and putting each other down in loud, mocking voices.

The little dark-haired girl next door raced her bike up and down our side of the street as fast as she could. Out in the street, her older brother, who had just taught her to ride a couple of weeks earlier, matched her stride for stride.

Across the street, a middle-aged couple out for a leisurely stroll stopped to chat with a woman digging in her flower bed, her trusty black lab at her side. Another couple talked to neighbors from lawn chairs in front of their house. In the stoic brick house at the end of the block, an elderly man who never comes out except to mow his lawn sat on his front porch, reading a newspaper.

It reminded me of the summer block parties my neighborhood used to throw many years ago when I was growing up. On one end of the barricaded street, adults set up tables and chairs. Everyone brought a salad and a hot dish to pass. On the other end, teenage boys played fast-pitch tennis ball in the street while the younger kids played tag and kick-the-can on front lawns. For that one glorious night, we all came together the way communities are supposed to.

It was a simpler time, I suppose, like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting or an early “Happy Days” episode. Few women worked outside the home and everyone just did with less. After shuffling husbands off to work and children to school, mothers took turns meeting in each other’s homes for coffee, cake and gossip. As the men got off work, they often paused for a few moments to talk about their jobs, the state of the world and the Cubs and White Sox – although not always in that order. All the kids grew up together, pretty much knowing everything there was to know about each other. We almost knew each other’s homes as well as our own.

We may not have been the best of friends, but like families, we all got along. More importantly, everyone looked out for each other.

Although someone once stole a neighbor’s car out of his garage – those of us who remember still talk about it – it was a time you could let your kids play outside because it never occurred to anyone to mess with them. We were united, which made us all feel safe.

I felt a lot of that old feeling the other night.

That is, until the utility company restored our electricity and we all went back into our homes, shut the doors, and returned to our separate lives.

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