Tuesday, December 11, 2007

rendezvous with the neighbors

It was just the female neighbors, actually. We were to meet last night for a candle exchange Christmas party. I own one of 20 houses on the park. My house, on one end of the row of 20, is the smallest; the party was held on the other end, at the largest. Its living room had the square footage of my entire house, and easily seated 20 women.

I tried to act nonchalant, but the idea of socializing amongst neighbors is unnerving to me. The question is, do I fit in? A counselor I was seeing a few years ago suggested that I was seeking somewhere to belong, and heaven knows I have put a tremendous amount of time into assessing which neighborhood I really wanted to live (belong) in.

This neighborhood comprises retirees to a large extent. There's a simple reason for that: the houses were built in the late 1950's/early 1960's, and these people bought the houses to raise their families in. They've stayed, enjoying the park location, and now they're in their 70's, 80's and 90's. My particular house has experienced more turnover- I'm its 4th owner, I think.

This neighborhood differs from the upstate NY neighborhood I grew up in. This one is more affluent and conservative. Everybody here understands the rules and abides by them, thank you very much. It's a rather uptight-looking place, with well-manicured lawns and not a wayward leaf in sight (heaven forbid).

Where I grew up it was more relaxed, more diverse. There were varied ethnic backgrounds, and the cooking smells emanating from each house reflected that. People sat outside on their front porches, unafraid to be seen idle, blatantly watching their neighbors. My best friend and I would run to the seedy bar a few blocks away to beseech her Polish father to come home. There was a bachelor, pipe-smoking Floyd, who didn't drive or speak to anyone, and a widow, Mrs. Sweet, who, true to her name, passed out candy to neighborhood children. The older couple in the house across the street never came out of the house for any reason, and we never knew how they obtained food. The Wilsons stood out because they grew tulips- few in this working class neighborhood could afford to bother with flowers. The Jaworskis were unkempt, their house neglected, abandoned cars cluttering their yard. There were real characters living on my street.
No wonder I crave the diverse, high energy downtown neighborhood which I'm always talking about moving to. It reminds me of my roots. I'm homesick.

The neighborhood I now live in is milktoast, devoid of color or personality. The party was somewhat dull, as expected given the neighjborhood we live in. I did connect with 5 or 6 women, and enjoyed that. To that extent, I did fit in. I did not find it necessary to be uptight or judgemental during the party; therefore, I was not self-conscious. For me, this is progress.
Although I live near these women, we live in a suburban type area, much to my dismay, so we rarely, if ever, interact. We all go directly into our houses from our cars via attached garages. There are no sidewalks here- walking is discouraged and dangerous. Odd as it seems, I did not even recognize most of these neighbors at the party, and I've lived here 7 years! Although the question of fitting in is always in the back of my mind, if only subconsciuosly, I was not really sure that this was the group I wanted to fit with. I see myself as being more free spirited and colorful.
One older woman who'd had one glass too many of the red wine was treating me like a daughter, beckoning me over to sit next to her (she orchestrated a complete overhaul of the seating arrangement to pull this off) and then she rested her hand on my leg as she held court. She was the most lively of the bunch, I'd say, as I recall the way she kept bursting into gales of laughter for no known reason.

Before the candle exchange began, one woman suddenly popped out of her chair with shocking enthusiasm, waving a clipboard above her head, shouting, "LADIES!!! LADIES!!!!! May I have your attention PLEASE!!!!"

It turned out that she'd had a brainstorm and wanted to start a neighborhood euchre group. All my life I have hated cards, probably because my parents belonged to a card club and I dreaded their raucous parties at our house. Anyway, she passed around the clipboard for people to sign up. I passed. Hmmmm...maybe I don't belong.....

Finally we got down to the point of the evening: the candle exchange. We were supposed to be able to "steal" a candle someone else had chosen if we liked it, but we were all too wimpy to steal, being representatives of this righteous neighborhood. It turned out that I happened to choose the candle brought by the overly friendly wine drinker who had demanded that I sit with her. (She was thrilled that I was her candle's recipient.)As you can see, it is a cinnamon colored/sented candle inside a silver and gold box wrapped with a red bow. At first glance, I determined that it was not my cup of tea, and I'd re-gift it. (I am a product of the above-described upstate NY neighborhood.) After I got home, however, I thought maybe I'd keep it as a souvenir of my "fitting-in fest."

Did I fit in? Well, I didn't stand out. That's a start.


Mark said...

Sounds like a not so interesting neighborhood, ha.
Glad that you kind of enjoyed your self and that you did not fit in to just fit in.
I like Groucho Marx's old quote "I don't want to belong to any club that would have me as a member". Personally, fitting in has always been low on my list of objectives.

Betty said...

Dear Mark,

Yeah, I didn't force the "fitting in" and I suppose the important issue is that I neither judged nor felt judged. (And if others were judging me, it doesn't matter- heck, I didn't even know about it.)
And twriting this post made me realize there is a difference between belonging and fitting in. For example, I belonged to my family of origin, but certainly didn't fit in. And fitting in doesn't matter.

Loving Annie said...

I hate parties. I'll join you and we can feel like we don't fit in together - or does that defeat the purpose cause then we'd be having a little party all of our own ?

I lived in a neighborhood like you described. Everyone followed the association rules, which was good; but no-one knew anyone else on the street, which was bad because it was lonely..

Finding a neighborhood where you belong... Where it FEELS GOOD, is what I'd say... And then of course, you have to LOVE your home, the very first minute you walk into it, you have to feel inside it is YOU and you will be safe/emotionally comforted there...

Size doesn't matter - what matters is the hearts of the people who live there.

(One of my dearest friends on the street lives in a house 1/2 the size of mine - and another really good friend lives in a house twice as big as mine.)

I think it is good that you got out. Kudos to you for that, and maybe the next party will be more fun. I get horrifically shy in front of people I don't know, and trying not to be such a recluse is important...

I have a feeling people really like you when you come out of your shell. I see it here on your blog - you are kind and sweet and REAL.

One step at a time, you know ?

Loving Annie

Betty said...

Dear Annie,

Could you tell that I almost didn't go? I have blown off the past couple of neighborhood parties.... I tried to regard this one with a bit of amusement, and not take it so seriously. That was good, but I still think I could have lived without it!

And I know what you mean about the size not being what counts, but my current house is truly not big enough. We have no guest bedroom, and I need a room for working at home (when I do). A mud room sure would be nice too- right now the foyer is it.... and I've always wanted a big house to spread out in, having never had the experience before. Plus, I've never been drawn to the architecture of the early 60's. (I most certainly do not love my house!!!)

Anyway, one step at a time, figuring things out along the way...


GarnetDavid said...

I'd be worried if you fit in too well! Who wants to be a suburban droid, even if it gives some comfort of belonging.

I see you as an individual who form particular friendships, not the
group format.

I'm glad you went and broke the ice. (I liked your comment about refraining from judgment. I'll remember that at the next party I attend) It'll be easier at the next one.

Betty said...

Dear Garnet,

Yes, it would have been rather alarming to "fit in" with this group. It makes me realize how silly it is to want to fit in, anyway. Better that we should just want to be ourselves, perhaps.

The next party will indeed be easier, if I remember not to judge!


simply me said...

That was a great post and I'm happy to hear you took a chance on the neighborhood event. That's an interesting concept....candle exchange huh! I wonder what other items can be thought of to exchange LOL...that could be dangerous.

Happy Holidays Betty - Blessings to you and your little man.

Betty said...

Dear Simply Me,

Yes- I wonder what they'll exchange next year?! I'm glad they decided to change from their original format of ornaments, because not all of us have trees!

There's a funny little aside to this story- I never actually received an invitation (one of the neighbors told me about it) and when I arrived and someone mentioned that I didn't get an invitation, one woman very rudely snorted, "Well, you weren't on our list!" I said, "Do you want me to leave?" and I think she was embarrassed. Can you imagine??!!


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