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Entertaining in the garage: mom would cringe.

The day was cold and rainy… but no one cared. Even though we needed anchor rocks on outside tables to keep tablecloths from flying away, dozens of neighbors huddled together in our garage this weekend for the neighborhood semi-annual picnic. Neighbors came out from the gloom of hibernation mode to see what everyone was up to. And to see who’d moved in since the last time. Parents with young children were relieved to see new faces with small kids in tow, and old timers reconnected. This was the 17th block party organized by a long-term resident who looks at neighbors gathered here as family. Turns out our little home, with it’s roomy garage and overhangs, was literally made for “in case it rains” parties. Hosting again is probable.

I love living in a neighborhood that socializes and love seeing friendly faces pass when I’m pulling weeds out front. Conversations aren’t usually personal, but even a warm wave counts. Any exchange beats blank stares or worse, no eye contact at all. Feeling invisible makes me cringe.

The concept of getting together with those who live around you can work for all neighborhoods to a certain extent, even apartment buildings. I happen to love socializing, but I know it’s not for everyone. And socializing with people you hardly know? Well, no way.

Partying together is fun but there’s perks in just knowing who your neighbors are. Like checking in on someone who hasn’t opened their blinds in three days, or calling 911 when you see smoke where it shouldn’t be. Then, there’s borrowing an egg when the recipe calls for two instead of the one you have left. Last year I crossed the street to check on someone who was parked in the driveway of a neighbor on holiday. He might have belonged there, but I didn’t know. Turned out he was a relative returning a ladder, but the neighbor thanked me for checking anyway.

It’s always been comforting to know I don’t have to go it alone, when there’s someone to call if I need help… or if someone needs me. My phone rang once at 4:00am. My neighbor suddenly couldn’t walk and was sitting on the floor beside her bed when I rushed over. She’d had a stroke, and it was the first time I ever had to dial 911.

We’ve lived in many houses over the years, and thinking back at some of the times when neighbors needed neighbors makes me realize how important they’ve been to us. The short list:

♣ We lived across the street from a small dairy farm once and a power outage shut down milking machines. Neighbors took turns milking the herd so udders wouldn’t, well, you know. (quickie training required, of course)

♣ We pooled food for a group spaghetti dinner when an outage shut down everyone’s stove except mine. We had a jolly good time sitting around a candlelit table, sharing the relief of not being alone. The power came on during dessert and a hearty group cheer made us laugh even more.

♣ Our chainsaw has come in handy when trees have fallen across the road, blocking everyone from getting to work. Who doesn’t love a chainsaw!

♣ We’ve pulled someone out of the ditch because ice was invisible. And we’ve been pulled out of the ditch because ice was invisible.

♣ I’ve had the call, “Not sure if I turned the stove off. Could you go over and check?”

♣ Once my husband and I both had the flu at the same time. Food supplies were low–not even a can of the required chicken soup–and we were too weak to drive to the store. I felt like kissing the neighbor who poked her head in on her way to the market.

Whether it’s official holiday parties, cookouts, or just plain talking to each other, the feeling of community and safety has always been a comfort for me. So many times we’ve relied on neighbors for help, and lots of times for friendship. I was grateful for the neighbor stopping by when she saw me weeding. I hadn’t recognized the poison oak I was about to grab. And we were so happy when a neighbor could let himself into our garage while we were away in Dec. A pipe had burst in the wall during the winter freeze and he turned off the plumbing.

At the very least, we exchange phone numbers when we move to a new place, house keys once we get to know each other. This neighborly exchange plants a nice little social seed, and smiles usually spread like wild fire!

SECRET: For the safety of you and your family, make a point of knowing the neighbors across the street and next door, or across the hall. That will at least give you three numbers to call if you ever need help in hurry.