If I had been in the von Trapp household and been asked what my favorite things were, I’d have started with having breakfast on the front porch during a rain storm listening to a mix of international songs from the first half of the 20th century. On those mornings, it’s not uncommon for me to go through two pots of hot tea and switch to wine while listening to four different renditions of La Vie En Rose before I consider the morning closed…which may be well into late afternoon.
To the North, there are only two porches before the end of our block, but the space between the two houses on the corners seems inconsequential when peering through the porches. Meanwhile, as far as I can see to the South, I peer through porch after porch after porch…I count twelve before I’m not able to peer through any farther. Some have porch swings, two have a trellises, one even has a tiki bar. They all have lights that create our own personal lighted walk in the evenings. And they have become the new living room of my neighborhood.
Another of my favorite things is my changing neighborhood. When I moved here eleven years ago, the neighborhood was quiet. Most of the hoses were occupied by elderly couples who were friendly and sometimes a bit bossy about how they liked their neighborhood to be kept up, but they were always there to help, or lend an egg or let me know if anything suspicious was going on. It was like living next to half a dozen sets of grandparents—it was great!
But the cycle of life keeps spinning and a few died, others moved into nursing centers or with other family, and their houses passed on to younger couples with young kids. My young kids enjoyed that, even if the neighborhood became suddenly loud and a bit chaotic. Tree houses were built, a window or two was broken from ill-hit baseballs, the sidewalks were covered in chalk as often as not.
But these families moved on to bigger houses in better school districts and the houses stood silent for a few years. Some fell into disrepair. Some became rather scary with stories of ghosts and crime. Paint chipped, then peeled, broken windows stayed broken or were covered in ugly boards, and we learned just how high grass could grow if left uncut.
Then two years ago, an immigrant family moved into the house two doors down from me. They took the worse house on the block and nursed it back to health. It quickly became the best house in the block. Until another immigrant family from a different part of the world moved in and took the worst house and fixed it up. And so on and so forth until every house in my block now shines beautiful and welcoming.
Meanwhile, my neighbors are now Turks, Mexicans, Columbians, Congolese, Russians, Egyptian and Rawandan…in addition to a few young couples with young kids, a few elderly couples who we all care for as if they were grandparents, and even a few young professionals.
So let me tell you what I love about the young professionals. They know how to rock the front porch and have been teaching all of us how to use our front yards, which previously were just for cutting grass. The tiki bar I mentioned to the South of me—yup, it’s the young professionals, and not only are they out there almost every night mixing drinks, they are often playing the guitar, singing and playing games like pictionary or sharades.
Their evening parties often spill over into the front yard where they set up cornhole or horseshoes or bocce amidst folding chairs and a portable grill. On other evenings, they bring out a portable firepit and sit around it roasting hotdogs or marshmallows laughing and telling stories…always with a cheery “hello” as I walk by with the dogs.
Since the weather changed, I’ve noticed several other families venturing out on thier front porches, and my daughter and I even ventured out into the lawn the other day. Maybe one day soon we’ll play some croquet there. For some reason it seems to require some amount of courage to be out there…like being on a stage of sorts.
Which brings me to another favorite thing—the colors that come from living in an international neighborhood. On my end of the block, there are brilliant purple, orange and yellow flowers at every house (except the Americans’ houses). They spill over the porches, fill the flowerbeds and even trail out into the yards. So beautiful, so charming, so inviting they brighten the neighborhood beyond anything I’ve ever seen.
As soon as I’m finished writing you, Gentle Penguin, I’m going straight to the nursery to pick up some purple flowers of my own.
Ella sings, “Let’s fall in love. Why shouldn’t we fall in love? Our hearts are made for it. Let’s take a chance, why be afraid of it?” And my Mexican neighbors sing along, now sitting on their front porch drinking coffee and chatting after a rousing “hello” to greet me. The Russian family tips their coffee cups our way and feed scraps of their breakfast to the cat who lives alternately on the porches of the Rawandas, a young couple and the Egyptians.
Truthfully, I am in love–here on the porch—with my neighborhood.