Sunday, September 27, 2009

Getting in on social event of the season

All she wanted to know was if there would be kids at Amah's and Papa's block party.

I wasn't sure. I thought of all the people I'd known from growing up on the horseshoe drive; the home turnover rate didn't seem that high. I'm sure there would be grandchildren, I told her. Some might even be her age.

All I really knew was that my mother — Ittybit's Amah — was making her famous black-bottomed cupcakes and that was reason enough to attend.

She ignored my drooling over cream cheese-filled baked goods. Kids HAD to be at block parties ... who else would play with the blocks?

Block parties started out as urban affairs during World War I. City streets were cordoned off — often without permission of the authorities — and thanks to street lights, folks would stay late into the evening communing with the community.

With the migration of people to suburbs and even more remote locations, I suppose the lowly American block party has become an endangered species. Like zebra muscles, the more grand-scale, corporate-sponsored events have choked them out.

Until recently, my experience with neighborhood get-togethers was limited to sitting in the dark as a John Hughes' neighborhood swapped the silver screen for Anytown, U.S.A. It didn't bother me to think that I knew Kevin Bacon or Molly Ringwald better than good old what's-her-name from two doors down.

In my mind, block parties were those gatherings at which the cool people (that would be US) with urbane and cultured interests, stood around watching the time while guys in plaid pants pulled up to their chests (that would be THEM) talked about the useless plastic flywheel on their Yardmaster 2000. Their wives would share the secret ingredient of their secret-ingredient casseroles (Chinese noodles) as the "career gals," rolled their eyes.

Of course, No one understands what anyone else is saying because of their perky, uprooted Minnesotan accents. We just accept the slice of watermelon and lean forward as we eat it so as not to get any on us.

But what we miss by attending only the designed, Disneyfied fĂȘtes is HUGE even though the missing bits are small enough to fit on nametags.

As my kid played with her best friend from her old preschool, I sat munching an apple and marveled aloud: I had NO IDEA Sierra lived on this street. Or that Tyler lived just around the corner.

My mom recognized both kids but didn't know their names.

Who's that? She wondered of the pretty young woman wearing a purple shirt.

I don't know. … Never seen her before.

On and on through the day people sampled the apple, seafood and ambrosia salads, sleuthed out the chefs and ask after recipes.

Some neighbors offered their lawns, some their grills. Everyone brought something to share. One neighbor, bearing a trendy water bottle, offered up cups filled with samples of his favorite libation: pineapple and rum.

An all-ages egg toss, the crux of which was designed to get egg on one's face by NOT getting egg on one's face, proved to be the perfect ice breaker.

A little girl name Kelly got stuck with me. As I introduced myself to the little girl who'd drawn the short straw, the pretty young woman in the purple shirt stretched out her hand and introduced herself: she's Kelly's mom, she lives in the brown house in the center of the block. They've live there for four years.

Turns out, she was also extremely gifted at catching uncooked eggs lobbed at her from 25 yards.

Both Ittybit and I were eliminated in the early rounds. But despite being in the midst of the "bestest party I've ever been to in the whole of my life," and having no shortage of kids with which to play, she sat in my lap, eager to cheer on the egg-toss winners.

None of us wanted to leave as it got dark and the realization of it being a school night came into focus.

Just about then, I overheard the man from the blue house on the corner, apologizing for the condition of his deck. "Wait until you see it next year … it'll be amazing."

And I thought: "I can't wait."

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