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The invitation was hand-delivered to our mailbox two years ago. The retired couple who’d recently moved in toward the top of our street was hosting a neighbourhood get-together. My family had moved to town 20 years prior, when a bevy of young kids roamed from yard to yard, facilitating parental interaction that led to effortless friendships. Children are the greatest little icebreakers, and through school and community involvement, we steadily grew our tribe of friends in town. But as children grew and families moved out of the neighbourhood, a new influx of homeowners remained strangers. Their kids were either much younger than ours or had long since flown the nest. We had no natural commonality.
Then the invite came. I thought it both brilliant and brave. Part of me was apprehensive. What if these people were odd, but not in a good way? Or differed significantly in their political beliefs from our progressive views? I had a hard enough time keeping up with my current friends. Did I want more? My husband, however, being a kinder person than I, convinced me we should attend. “How will they meet anyone in town if they don’t have kids? What if it was us?” He guilted me into it.
On the prescribed evening, we headed up the street with a bottle of wine and appetizer in hand. I’m normally an extrovert, but entering a house full of strangers is not my idea of a good time. Yet from the moment we arrived, our hosts put us at ease. The vibe was friendly, welcoming, and chill. Not everyone they invited came, but we met some new folks from “the other end of the street” and everyone stayed significantly past the time noted on the invitation.
That evening the group agreed to get together regularly and decided on the first Wednesday of each month. We created new bonds and renewed ties to old friends. Two of us connected as writers. My husband found a kindred soul with whom to discuss poetry at a café down the street and another who’s sharing her knowledge of meditation with him.
We began inviting others and our little tree of neighbours quickly grew branches into adjacent streets. I now walk my neighbourhood delighted to know the people living in these homes, glad that I care about them and their families, and genuinely enjoy spending time with them. We take turns hosting our soirees, and there’s never pressure to attend. Come if you can, and don’t worry if you can’t. Come late, come for an hour, come for the evening. Some of us bring drinks and others food. Some just bring themselves. It’s casual. It’s fun. It’s easy.
Early on, our original hostess explained the genesis for her invitation when she told us a story about her mother, Ruth. Ruth and her husband would enjoy a drink at 5:00 each evening. She was 89 when her husband died but continued the tradition by driving down the hill to her neighbour’s house every day for cocktail hour. She’d take her own bottle of cheap bourbon (she was a child of the Depression), have one drink, stay an hour, and go home. Often several others joined the two women for a little revelry. Ruth did that for five years, until she fell and had to go to an assisted living facility. I guess obtaining bourbon was more difficult there.
At each party, as soon as one of us starts to head home, we get into a circle, raise our glasses, and toast, “To Ruth!”
I’d been looking forward to hosting the April 2020 party. It was cancelled, as was every subsequent gathering, consequences of social distancing. But we’ve kept in touch by social media and email, as well as waving to each other from the sidewalk. This collective embrace has provided tremendous comfort during this difficult time. We might be separated, but we’re connected. Thank you, Ruth!
Margarita Barresi's work has appeared in several platforms, including Grown and Flown, Teen Magazine, Acentos Review, and several anthologies. Her recently completed historical fiction novel set in 1930s and 40s Puerto Rico, A Delicate Marriage, is currently under agent representation. She lives in the Boston suburbs, where she often drinks with her lovely neighbors.