I like your style. Well told.
| The Friendship Wagon
We live on a dead end street in a subdivision of a typical suburb of a large, Midwest, rustbelt city. It’s a pleasant place with an eclectic collection of homes on lots a bit larger than most. Unlike the surrounding subs, it was not built by developers and filled with cookie cutter homes. Instead, most of the lots were purchased privately and built upon by the owners. Some of the residents are the grown children of the previous generation on the same street for their entire lives. My wife and I are marking thirty one years.
It’s not the homes or the lots, or the city in which we live that makes us special. A mile or two in any direction will find a Home Depot, a Kmart, several strip malls, gas stations, and restaurants. What makes our street special is the people. In these times when folks don’t know their next door neighbors let alone the community, our neighborhood is a bit of an anomaly. We all know one another. We attend each others weddings and funerals, birthdays and graduations, Halloween parties, garden parties, bonfires, and just plain get-togethers. Almost any gathering in our neighborhood is bound to have a contingent known affectionately as the Street People. Nothing illustrates this as well as the tale of the Friendship Wagon:
It was a sunny, Saturday afternoon in August. My wife was at work. The kids were off somewhere with friends, and I had the house to myself. Not being one to waste time with chores, I was reading out on the deck when the phone rang. It was Pat Casey, down the street, and he needed my help.
“Meet me in my driveway” he said, “and bring your beer mug.” Of course, that was all I had to hear. You know, a friend in need and all that good stuff. How could I refuse? So I grabbed my battered, old pewter mug, and headed across the street and down six or seven houses. I was met by a very strange sight. Here was Pat sitting on his front porch, mug in hand waiting for me. That part wasn’t strange, but his kid’s red, Radio Flyer wagon was parked in the driveway with a half barrel of LaBatt’s Blue sitting upright in a bath of ice. A CO2 tank was lying next to it with a hose leading up to the barrel and another hose from the barrel to a small ice chest on the back of the wagon. The ice chest was held down with bungee cords, and out the very back was a beer tap complete with a beautiful brass and wood tap handle. Topping off the whole rig were two giant bags of popcorn the size of trash can liners, hung over the barrel saddlebag style.
A half-barrel holds about fifteen gallons, and this one was about half full. So Pat and I were standing there with two, twelve ounce mugs and about seven or eight gallons of fine Canadian lager. Clearly, we were in trouble. Pat explained that the barrel was a leftover from Ray and Yvonne’s wedding (another pair of neighbors on our street), and it had been in Pat’s shop refrigerator ever since. Ray and Yvonne were married the month before and had a backyard reception, but my wife and I were on vacation and missed it. Anyway, the barrel had to be returned to the vendor, and Ray refused to take it back with beer still in it. We needed help.
Pat and I pulled the wagon up to where our street intersects the main road, and we started back down, knocking on doors as we walked. Pat on one side and me on the other. As we progressed back down the street we were collecting neighbors, filling glasses, cups, and mugs as we went. It was a little like the Pied Piper of Hamlin. We picked up Jan and Larry, and Gene and Bobbie. Steve and his wife joined us. More and more neighbors as we kept walking. Now and again some of us would sit on someone’s front porch for a while others went off to recruit more helpers. Barry and Linda, and Dan and Eileen joined us. Someone brought out pretzels and potato chips to go with the popcorn. We had soda pop and juice boxes as babies, kids and dogs joined the parade. Ray and Yvonne, and both Kathleens helped swell the ranks. Gary was there and the new couple in the house next to Randy and Linda came out too. By the time we reached Mike and Sue’s house, we had probably more than thirty neighbors.
By this time it was getting dark so we gathered some picnic tables and moved the rolling party into Mike’s backyard, but it was low and damp back there and the mosquitoes ran us out, so we moved back out to the street and just sat around on the curb.
Well, we did our duty that summer night. Ray was able to return a properly emptied barrel and everyone was happy. We all agreed that the Friendship Wagon was an inspired idea and should become a regular event. We talked about adding features like a rolling barbeque, and while I actually did put pneumatic tires on my Brinkmann Smoker, we never did pull it down the street with a hot load of charcoal. It’s come in handy for the block party, though. The Friendship Wagon has made two or three impromptu appearances since then, and is always a huge success. I think it’s real charm is the unpredictability of the event, and the fact that we always seem to find willing participants to celebrate the simple act of living where we do and being neighbors and friends.
Thus ends the story of the Friendship Wagon, but not the lesson learned: Love thy neighbor. We do in my neighborhood.
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