Its 5:45 p.m. on a Friday evening in the Spring. Or perhaps it’s a Wednesday evening in the Fall. I stand alone in the middle of Willow Lane with an open bottle of Pinot Noir and wait. Most of the cars belonging to the neighbors are in the driveways so I know it won’t be long.
Within a few minutes, Maya skips out her front door and catches sight of me. I wave. She waves back.
“Where’s Mom and Dad?” I yell down the street.
“Mom’s inside. Dad’s on his way home.”
“Tell your Mom I say its happy hour!”
She darts back inside to deliver the news. A tiny Paul Revere in a dress. Love that kid. A few moments later, Miriam and Ernie across the street come outside, their two girls leading the charge on their bicycles. Miriam takes one look at me and sends Ernie back inside for glasses and a bottle of whatever they have.
Dave saunters out from our own home with our dog and a beer. Our boys roll down the street and whiz by me, one on a Rip Stick; the other, a scooter Maya has delivered my message and her mom Sue emerges with more red wine. We form a small circle in the middle of the Lane, catching up on the happenings of the week as the kids play around us. It’s not long before Maureen and Charlie, empty nesters of one year, join us with more wine and better stories than any of us could ever make up. Kate and Andy drive up with their infant son Ben, and we descend upon them, oohing and ahhing at the baby while someone pours his parents a drink. And then comes Chris, Maya’s dad, walking home from the train but first stopping in our garage refrigerator which he has nicknamed “the beer distributor” to grab himself a cold one.
And there we stand together. No one is in a hurry to leave. No plans have been made except for this. Sometimes, Sophie and Marty (the elders), Bill (our confirmed 80 year old bachelor and bagpiper) and Samantha and Ryan (the young’ins) of Willow Lane will join us – if they are not off doing something more interesting. We are quite a spectacle. Our crowd, smack in the center of the street, is hard to resist. Sometimes, visitors who come down our street will stop, park and join our gathering. Most of the time, we know who they are.
A sighting of my boys around 7:30 reminds me that dinner is in order and a delegation is assembled to determine what kind of pizza should be ordered. Folding tables are hastily set up in our driveway or we venture inside to chow down, only to emerge soon after to start the fire pit where marshmallows are toasted and s’mores constructed. And as we sit around the fire, someone usually sighs, “I love the Lane.” And we all concur in silence, with only the children laughing in the background. This time we spend with our neighbors is, without hesitation, one of my favorite things to do in this world.
There is a tremendous amount of pleasure in its simplicity: Conversation. Laughs. Lovely people. Belonging. Still it is not lost on me that these basic elements of suburban life are elusive to most people I know and most streets down which I travel.
This week, Sue, Chris and Maya are moving to Connecticut, leaving a large hole on the Lane. They took great care to fill it with a nice family who will be moving in next weekend, but my heart hurts to lose them. We all watched over the last year as Chris was offered and accepted a fabulous position at Yale, understanding what an opportunity it was but still selfishly and silently hoping he wouldn’t get or take it.
It was never our place to tell them “DON’T GO! WE NEED YOU HERE TO BE OUR FRIENDS AND HAVE HAPPY HOUR WITH US ON FRIDAYS! AND WEDNESDAYS! BECAUSE THE LANE WON’T EVER BE QUITE THE SAME WITHOUT YOU!!”
But their life, like all of ours, doesn’t need back seat drivers.
It’s funny but our best gatherings on the Lane are invariably the ones we never plan. They start organically with me standing out in the middle of the street with an open bottle of Pinot Noir, hoping someone will smell it and come join me. Our attempts to organize and control these evenings never result in a better time than when we let things just happen. People show up when they can and leave when they must. And there is no angst or sadness in the flow of it all.
So, too, should be the flow of life. We are best served by letting Sue, Chris and Maya head north where we will now be able to say we have close friends (and an awesome bathroom break on our way up to Rhode Island). I’m certain that if there is a community to be had in Connecticut, our friends will be a valuable part. And we are hoping that the new neighbors like red wine and s’mores, at the same time reminding ourselves that there are people in their old neighborhood who are missing them, too.
Thoureau said “Nothing makes the earth seem so spacious as to have friends at a distance; they make the latitudes and longitudes.”
Neighbors may come and go but friends are really forever. And I, for one, am already looking forward to the day when we pull into the driveway at 41.2784610; -72.6011430 so I can tell Maya to go get her parents. Its time for happy hour.