Empanadas: if you bake them, they will come! The invitations that Maya and I delivered to close to 100 homes on our street last week promised food–one of the best ways to bring people together. I made 80 Argentina-style empanadas for the occasion and they were a hit!
It wasn’t the empanadas that made the evening a success, though, it was the company. We had about 50 neighbors here, getting to know each other and relaxing in our front yard and on the porch. At the gate, I placed a little note requesting that neighbors use a name tag to indicate their name as well as how many years they have lived in the neighborhood.
With heads cocked, chins upturned, and eyes squinting in thought, each guest calculated just how long they’ve lived here. They talked to their partners to verify, “Has it been 18 years already?” or turned to a new friend to share, “I just moved in 7 weeks ago!” One guest’s family has lived on this street for 54 years! Another, for 4 generations. Just those simple numbers under each of our names served as conversation-starters throughout the evening.
Rob caught up with our next door neighbor who has been helping Rob to diagnose our car’s problems. We had recommended a surveyor to another neighbor and followed up to see if the rec had worked out. I updated an ER doctor and a pediatrician about how the gash on the back of Fritz’s head has healed. I learned that the turkeys aren’t in the coop on the corner anymore because they’re out on the ranch with some peacock chicks, offspring of our hood’s favorite wandering fowl–a few of whom strutted by the party.
We congratulated a young neighbor on his acting debut in the horror flick, Follow, which, as we spoke, was playing its final showing at the Alamo Drafthouse nearby. On the spot, he serenaded a show-tune enthusiast with a rendition of Somewhere Over the Rainbow.
It had been months since I’d seen my friends, the founders of Please Be Kind to Cyclists and it was only the second time I’d met Will Wynn, two term Austin mayor whose knowledge of sustainability overlaps with Rob’s in energy efficiency. I bonded with Richard in Spanish and Maya, hearing the language of her teachers, gazed up at him with wide eyes, seeming to think, “?Tu hablas espanol, tambien?”
Maya played with her best friend, who, along with her brother and parents, brought her beautiful grandmother (and several gifts!) from India. Another grandparent, a Russian-American from Illinois, also accompanied his daughter and grandson. Babies-due-any-day brought expectancy and predictions. Children and toddlers stretched out on porch stone, eating and chalking (as Maya says) and played in the side-yard, climbing and chasing. Conversations, some surface, some significant, connected us to each other in new ways.
In the days since our gathering, I’ve been thinking of the concept of families’ Funds of Knowledge which has influenced my work in schools, with teachers, parents, and students. That evening, as the mosquitoes nipped our ankles and the front porch light just barely lit the lawn, there was evidence of neighbors, new and old, viewing each other with an appreciative lens, recognizing the funds of knowledge they each had to offer.
Between refilling trays and locating wine corkscrews, I listened, paused, and said, “I want this to be an ongoing conversation. Let’s find more ways for neighbors to come together, to support each other, and build community.”
When Maya and I passed out invitations that Sunday, maybe we were planting the seeds to new conversations. I believe that, if we tend to them, Thursday’s conversations will take root and grow.