Except for casserole recipes, I don’t often look to the editors of Parade Magazine for inspiration. I thumb through it most Sundays as quickly as I can. I would ignore it altogether, but I can’t bear to waste any part of my newspaper. Come to think of it, that’s probably also why I find casseroles so satisfying. I admire new ways of using little bits of leftovers that otherwise would have gone to waste.
In May, Parade Magazine’s cover story featured clever and innovative housing designs. The editors rounded out the issue by gathering heartwarming stories of people meeting their neighbors. One of those sidebars caught my eye.
A neighborhood in Columbus, Ohio has an informal program they call “Wednesdays on the Porch.” A different resident each week hosts a potluck for the neighborhood from their front porch.
After eight years, 75 different participating families, and more than 130 porch parties, Doug Motz described his brainchild this way: “It’s a time for sharing — opinions on new restaurants, how to find good painters and home-repair people. And the nice thing is, the hosts don’t have to worry about cleaning up inside.”
Last month, I found myself beside one of my neighbors in a day-long meeting focused on building a deeper sense of community in Eugene. He and I agreed to start our version of a roaming neighborhood potluck — Sundays at Six.
We’re inviting anyone who lives on our small stretch of road between two Dari Marts, about a block and a half long. I’m hosting this Sunday, my neighbor and his wife will host the following Sunday, and we’ll see what happens after that. Ice and charcoal are all we’re providing, plus maybe a table or two. Since everyone attending will have come from very nearby, each of us will bring our own chairs and drinks and utensils. We’re not promising even bathroom privileges.
Our block has a mix of young families and retirees, renters and owners, bicyclists and SUV-drivers. If we were a recipe, we’d boast a wild array of flavors. But we don’t really mix. I hope Sundays at Six will stir things up.
“Six weeks is all you get,” my brother Bill insists. “If you haven’t had a new neighbor over at least twice in the first six weeks, there’s no hope. After that, somebody could always ask what took you so long — why now?” He lives in the south, where social rules are more rigid and less spoken, but his point still holds. We want to make it easier to connect with neighbors, long after that six-week grace period has expired.
Our neighborhood is just like yours, filled with busy, timid people. We don’t dislike our neighbors. But we secretly fear they may dislike us.
So all we’re sharing is our front yards, something we already share with anyone who passes by. I’ve donated a small Weber grill that has been painted gold, with bold lettering announcing “PARTY.” The grill will travel to front yard of the next Sunday’s host, as a subtle sign. Neighbors can simply walk down the block and look for the distinctive golden grill.
We hope that good things will follow naturally — borrowing a cup of sugar, carpooling to an event, sharing garden bounty, watching a neighbor’s house while they’re away.
Don’t confuse our hopes with an agenda. In fact, we’ve agreed that Sundays at Six may spawn but must itself never become so organized that it requires maintenance, governance and leadership. Whoever hosts this Sunday gets to choose who will host next Sunday, but that’s the extent of the structure.
If somebody brings a croquet set, maybe we’ll have a game. If somebody wants to play music, others may choose to listen. If we learn that one neighbor makes the best mustard, more of us might start bringing bratwursts.
It will be whatever we decide to make it, except without anyone doing the actual deciding.
As with any good casserole recipe, the whole will become greater than its parts. If my neighbors and I concoct something tasty and distinctive from all the ingredients we have close at hand, I’ll admit it started with something I clipped from Parade Magazine.
Don Kahle (firstname.lastname@example.org) is executive director for the local chapter of American Institute of Architects. He writes a weekly column for The Register-Guard and blogs. Look for an amazing recipe for Savory Ginger Rosemary Squares. He clipped it from a newspaper.