We found our current neighborhood rather by accident. Having chosen to move back into this general region "for family" (you just snorted coffee up your nose, didn't you), we then set about looking for great old houses. We moved here from the 'burbs where you didn't talk to your neighbors unless it was prearranged. If you needed a saw, or an egg, or emergency babysitting, you called a contractor, or hopped in your car and went to home depot or the store. And you dragged your kid with you or rearranged your schedule. I used the paths around my house to walk my dog and run, but I rarely saw anyone other than the dogwalkers. Part of what attracted to me to this place was simply driving around and seeing people outside running, walking, walking their dogs, pushing strollers, checking out yard sales, half-jogging to the train. And after we signed the documents and I went online to check out what on earth we had just done, I found our new home referred to as one of the best, tight-knit, most fun, party-lovin', oldest, closest neighborhoods in the region.
We moved into a house where the previous owners wore the neighborhood mantle well: we'll just call them the "Fun Bobby's" (a la Friends), and we were, for months, "The people who moved into the Fun Bobby's House." We rolled our eyes. Wondered if we would ever fit in and be accepted for who we were. Even the kids wouldn't let me forget how cool Young Fun Bobby's Room was, or the fact that they had a cotton candy machine at Young Fun Bobby's birthday. But hey, we were boring. Mr. ABF shuffled off to work, and I putzed around monitoring contractors and trying to lay low during a rather stressful pregnancy. Not to say people weren't nice: within hours of moving here, people were walking up with cookies, and scraps of paper with all their relevant contact information on it. One neighbor brought us an enormous bag filled with food from her favorite local shops, and included business cards of said shops. Another neighbor handmade a slate sign with a cat on it that says "Welcome." I have never, ever felt welcome in a home before. I remember once heading out to take Max for a walk with Bella and arriving home 30 minutes later with six children, three parents, another dog, and a Guinea pig in tow all headed to our swing set.
And then the shit hit the fan. We'd only lived here roughly 6 months when Maddy died. The entire neighborhood had followed my pregnancy, even the anonymous dog walkers. We were soooo not the Fun Bobby's anymore. In my old neighborhood, as nice as they were, I can imagine one friend actually coming in to talk to me. Maybe a couple casseroles left at my door (in disposable containers so I wouldn't have to face them to return anything). But since no one talked anyway, this would be rather easy to contain. Not here. Within hours, the doorbell was ringing. People were coming over (in a few instances, together, as couples, or families) delivering hot chicken dinners with mashed potatoes, chocolate cakes, more letters with phone numbers. The neighbor across the street came over and practically took Bella home with her so we'd understand it was ok to do this, at a moment's notice, whenever we needed. For the first month, she kindly had Bella over so we could attend the therapist's together. To this day, Bella STILL wants to go over to Ms. C's house, "for a playdate." One neighbor dedicated a church service to Maddy. A dogwalker rang my bell one day, and explained that she had lived in Greece and wanted me to have a tear jar. And since she couldn't find one, she made one for me. And she didn't know my name, just my dog's, but she asked what my daughter's name was -- so she could think of her. They respected my silence, they nodded when I told them I felt like crap, and a few of them even continued to ask how I was really doing, months later. They hug, they kiss. One grieved with me, as her brother died right around the time that Maddy did. They continued to invite us to events, and expressed nothing short of glee when I finally started accepting invitations. We're back into the incestuous social fabric of this neighborhood that does everything together: looking after each-other's kids, playing poker monthly, dogsitting, fish-sitting, book club, spontaneous brunches and dinners and cocktails. When I had to face Bella's birthday and our anniversary, the thought of sitting alone in my house was suicidal. So, I invited over the entire neighborhood, and we drank champagne and ate cake until early in the morning.
Once a month, the neighborhood gets together for cocktails on a Friday evening. The host house provides booze, everyone else brings noshes. And little did we know when we signed the contract, for 20+ years the Christmas party was held in our house. We did last year's, when I was eight months pregnant and had only lived here 5 months, and people were astounded. And last night we did it again, complete with the ghost of Christmas past that I knew everyone was thinking of when they saw me putting down champagne. We gamely decorated in anticipation for this year's, which I didn't really mind because it forced me to make the house look nice, and I know my toddler appreciates that. And frankly, of anyone, these are the people that I'd like to do something for, for Christmas.
Last night, 70+ people came over in waves. All were kind, all were appreciative. By 1:00 a.m. when they left, most were a bit inebriated. A few people commented that they can't believe I do this party "on top of" the usual Christmas nonsense. To the few that I knew well, I informed them that this year, this WAS the Christmas nonsense. This was it. And today it starts coming down, and getting packed away for another year, and I'm officially moving on. Tuesday will just be a Tuesday where my husband doesn't drive to the office, and my toddler opens gifts. My neighbors got me through another death-versary-iday, and for that I am most grateful. Maddy would've loved this place.