National Night Out

I tied the yellow CAUTION tape around the tree at the corner and stretched it across the street to the stop sign on the other side. The other end of the block got the same treatment. But would drivers really obey my flimsy blockade? Or would cars blast through anyway?

“It’s official now,” a neighbor said, eyeing my work as she watered her boulevard garden.

I laughed. “I guess so.”

“I’ll be over soon with my tabbouleh salad.”

My first year as the block leader. My first National Night Out running the thing. We had always enjoyed the annual invitation from the next block, but it was time to host the event on our own street. Now who would come?

We set up the table in the middle of the road and toted out the hotdogs, chips, and rhubarb cake. Over the years, I had seen pictures of the event from other block parties in North Minneapolis: water balloon fights, door prizes, streamers, tables crowded with potluck dishes, and laughing neighbors-turned-friends. But at our place, we had simple food, camp chairs, a bucket of chalk. And room at the table for all of us.

A few neighbors sauntered over, then several more. Our gracious hosts from previous years popped by with hugs and a pan of curried rice. Some kids rolled in. I recognized one boy—no more than thirteen now—who had played basketball in our driveway a couple of years ago. His most recent adventures were captured on our back yard security camera one night in April when he and his buddies rifled through our Jetta, swiping our cell phone charging cords.

“Here you go,” Husband said, handing the kid a hotdog.

More children—minus their adults—swooped in and out. A five-year-old boy lingered to doodle chalk designs on the pavement with our teenage girls.

And then came the stories. One neighbor, now in his sixties, had once been the young guy on the block, surrounded by senior citizens. From inside his house one winter night long ago, he had heard someone call his name. He peered through the window to find an elderly woman splayed out on his front walk. He provided her with company and a warm blanket until the paramedics arrived. One of our girls shared a creepy light rail story from her day, and a neighbor gave her sound public transit advice: when in doubt, hit the emergency call button. Another neighbor’s meal with us was interrupted when she was notified that her fifty-four-year-old brother had died unexpectedly.

We packed up our evening with old and new friends, putting the bocce balls to bed in their case and leaving the chalk art to sing in the dark. There was nothing glamorous about sharing a hotdog with a kid who had ripped us off or with a neighbor whose life was sliced open by sudden loss, but it was real. Like family-real.

Some celebrate National Night Out as a festive event with all the sparkles. But on our block, we don’t get cleaned up for the party. We come as we are.

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*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.