I grew up in Portland, Oregon, but not the cool part. I grew up in the lame subdivision part, and I can still remember sitting on my bed next to my open window, watching the street on our culdesac, and it felt like I could sit there for hours, sitting in that window, staring at that street, and in all of those hours, I’d never see signs of human life. Everyone had huge backyards and big houses and they stayed sealed in those big houses and those backyards. We never ever ever talked to our neighbors. I lived on that street for 16 years and I couldn’t tell you the first or last name of anyone else who lived on that street that entire time.
I always knew that somehow, someway, when I had a house and family and a street of my own, that I needed it to not be that way. Something about that silence was profoundly upsetting to my psyche, and though I am a quiet person, I like to be surrounded by life. It’s not something I can explain easily, but sometimes when you feel as though you contain within you a deep silence, you need a lot of noise on the periphery, to combat the silence.
Mr. E grew up on a street in the middle of nowhere where all the kids knew each other, where everyone wove in and out of each other’s houses and went to school together and carpooled and I know this idea of a big street where everybody knows your name was always something he hoped for too. I’m not sure we ever sat down and said “I wish I had that” to each other, but I could tell in the way that he inappropriately noticed people in their front yards or introduced himself to people at the dog park that he was looking for it too.
We lived in a series of rented houses and apartments both before and after we got married while Mr. E spent 100 years in grad school and got first jobs, and we never had much choice about where we ended up, we went where the jobs were and we picked out what we could afford with hardwood floors and if it had a dishwasher, we considered ourselves lucky. We never found the kind of neighborhood we were after, although I think we received several very timely lessons regarding what we didn’t want, things like “neighborhood children who regale you with stories of flushing their mothers cocaine down the toilet while picking plums from the tree in your backyard” and “people who scream at their ex wives about calling CPS from the window of their Chevy Camaro”.
When we bought our house, we first found a realtor who told us that we couldn’t afford anything in our price range and then a realtor who showed a huge gorgeous house directly next to an expressway, and then we finally got a personal recommendation and made a quick phone call and wandered wearily and wrung out into an icy air conditioned office, full of quiet and thick pale green carpet, and while Eli rolled around on the floor, the realtor photocopied our map and then, quickly, with a red marker, drew giant X’s all over it, and said “No. Not here. Not here. No. And No.” and then handed it back. And then she asked all sorts of questions and she drove us to a few prospects, and after asking more questions and then more questions, she said “I have an idea”. And we ended up here.
When she drove us to our house she said “The people on this street will be just like you. They will be starting out like you and doing the same sorts of jobs you have, they will have young children and be scientists and work in state government and they’ll take care of their houses and your house will not be large, but I think you’ll be happy here.”
I am pretty sure that what she did is at least vaguely illegal, and I am hoping that she did not mean “everyone here is white, don’t worry”, but the truth is that I did not want to live next door to a pit bull breeding operation, which was pretty much our other option, so I took her advice and we bought this house, and we met our neighbors and planted tulips and endured the incredulity of everyone who doesn’t live in California when they heard that we had just spend a small fortune on a 960 square foot house.
We knew a few people up and down the street, we always smiled and tried to say hi when people walked their dogs, and we tried to make friends with the two gay guys that set up a table on their front lawn for Neighbor Night Out. And you didn’t have to watch out our front window for very long to see signs of life, but we weren’t exactly hosting progressive dinners every month or anything. It took a long time to start to make friends.
But slowly, slowly, we met people, and then we did Turf Wars and we met more people, and people moved in, people moved out, and it started to feel like home.
Sometime last summer or maybe early spring, one of my neighbors came over with a wine glass in her hand and a bottle of wine, and we sat on the front step talking for a few minutes, and then my other neighbor noticed us and wandered out of her house and we poured her a glass, and then Erik came home and I think he made some snacks, and Friday Night Neighborhood Happy Hour was born. Pretty soon a few neighbors down the street joined in, and then we got each other’s email addresses, and we started inviting anyone and everyone up and down the street and now almost every Friday night all summer long, we sit out in our driveway and we drink wine and the folding table staggers under the weight of all the food that people bring by and there are coolers of beer and kids and babies and sprinklers and magic happens, right there, in my front yard, and I sit there and although it is probably partially due to the two glasses of wine I always have, I think “I cannot believe I got this lucky. No one has this. No one I know has this. This is once in a lifetime. Thank you thank you thank you”, and I see the years unfolding in this tiny house, I see all of us showing up to birthdays and driving kids to swimming pools and Easter egg hunts and barbecues and my 16 year old daughter sharing secrets with the 16 year old girl who lives two houses down and I feel as though really and truly, me with my tiny house and my patch of a lawn and my two bedrooms and one bathroom? I am the luckiest.
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