My grandmother played bridge with her friends every week. For years she did this, no matter what. When smoking gave her a stroke and left her paralyzed on one side of her body, leaving her unable to hold her cards, she didn’t stop playing. She had my uncle make her a little tray filled with sand she could stand the cards up in. She wasn’t a compulsive gambler. It wasn’t about the game at all. It was, I think, about the people.
If you’re new here, here’s the arrangement: Brian is my brother-in-law. Our wives are sisters. I live in a cul-de-sac and Brian lives in the neighboring cul-de-sac, a short walk from us. This is the stage for our community, sometimes referred to here as the cult-de-sac.
Lots of people come and go from our front yards. Redneck Neighbor moved his family to the country where they can raise cows and chickens and be, well, more redneck without home owner association interference. Mr. Wizard started his PhD and then took a job with NASA and just doesn’t have the time anymore for sitting in a lawn chair with us. Brody started his own successful business and that’s taken him away from us too. J, an eight year-old who’s an important part of the basketball games in my driveway every afternoon, is moving soon.
A couple in my cul-de-sac who’ve been good neighbors for a while now are becoming good friends. A family from South Africa just moved in across the street. Their sons have given my girls the giggles and me a reason to buy a shotgun. And there are houses up for sale all around us that new neighbors will soon fill and hopefully, in time, they’ll bring their chairs over to our shade and let their kids run wild with ours.
At the risk of sounding cynical though, these new friends won’t be around forever. Our society has us all in constant transition. Jobs, mortgage companies, marriages, the McRib – almost everything is here today and gone within a couple years at the most. Almost everything.
Yesterday, me, Becky and the kids took bikes, basketballs and banana pudding over to Uncle Brian’s and Aunt Amy’s front yard to play with the six cousins. We sat and talked in lawn chairs like we’ve done for years. Brian taught my six year-old son the arts of basketball and smacktalk simultaneously – ”You need a break? Thirsty? Want a bottle?” Our little girls fought over scooters and eventually settled into drawing princesses on the driveway with chalk. Our older girls played school and tried to catch a rabbit.
This is the way it is almost every day. As I type here at the kitchen table I can here Nathaniel – one of the cousins – and my son Gresham bouncing basketballs and plotting what they’ll ask me to make for lunch. My girls are at Brian’s house playing dress-up or something.
I’m gonna be a little sappy here. It’s extremely comforting for me to know that no matter what changes or who comes in and out of our life, the people on Brian’s lawn last night, my family, are always there. Always. I know I can’t run them off. I could make them mad, or disappoint, sure – and I have – but I couldn’t make them go away entirely. I haven’t been able to yet.
They’re not “friends” accepted with the click of a mouse. They’re not the kind of “community” that follows me on Twitter or reads my blog. Our connection isn’t work, meetings, softball or something else transient. Our connection is each other. This is unchanging face-to-face community in an age where almost nothing else is.
I’m an idealist I know, but I really think, God willing, we could be sitting around in our eighties gumming banana pudding and watching (great) grandkids run around us in the front yard. Brian and I will have matching hairdos by then and I’m sure most of the conversation will be about what hurts and what needs replacing, but I can see it happening: Brian and Amy, Becky and me, still getting together under shade trees to laugh and remember everyone who came in and out of our lives over the years.