New neighbors moved in across the street, a young couple, man and woman.
No kids that I could tell, peaking out through the upstairs window where the tree doesn’t block the view.
A white couple. No surprise there.
I’m a white woman living in a sleepy white somewhat suburban town on a white street with white neighbors. I prepped my welcome to the neighborhood gift, a basket chock full of takeout menus from favorite local restaurants, a folded copy of the Bee, our local paper (we still have one of those), bottle of wine, block of cheese, box of crackers, and fancy chocolate.
Nice, eh? I’m a good neighbor.
Oh yeah, and a note that said: hi, please don’t call the cops on my kids.
Welcome to the Neighborhood
They are are older now, my kids, in college or flown and grown, white, mostly, coming and going at odd times of the night to crash, do laundry, talk, take a swim, or, I like to think, see me.
They too are white, with a lot of brown and black and caramel sprinkled throughout. I call them kids, but they’re grown-ass grown-ups, properly termed “young adults” which means jobs, shitty Brooklyn apartments, and the obscenity of college loans and having to pay for their own Netflix accounts welcoming them to the world of adulthood.
Last summer, my part-time daughter asked to celebrate her 25th birthday with a picnic in our backyard, with the pool, volleyball, and some of her friends. The volleyball net was up, grill smoking, music blasting. About 15, maybe 20 young people, lots of different colors, celebrating my brown daughter’s birthday.
Colors matter. Stay with me.
Backyard birthday party celebration
I was inside, glad to do mom-like-things once again, restocking beer and ribs, grateful for the noise and party atmosphere once again in my empty nest on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. The volleyball game was getting heated, with beers and cheers and leers erupting after long bouts of oohs and ahhs as volleys got more intense.
I heard them calling my name, loud, then louder and louder, all of them calling mom, like I was all of their mothers. I was half offended, and half endeared by the moms erupting like seagulls at the beach.
In the backyard, I quickly saw the volleyball had been launched over the fence, separating from our sprawling backyard from another. “So what? Go get it,” I said, picking up the empties on the picnic table.
No one moved. Not a one. Mumbling under their breath out of earshot, awkwardly laughing and joshing, but no one made an effort to scale the split-rail fence, or saunter through the lazy gate linking our friendly backyards to retrieve the rogue ball. Weird.
No one moved.
The neighbor’s yard was vast and looked just like ours: the fence dividing the property line not to keep people out or in, just a legal requirement because we had a pool. Before the pool, when our kids were little, there were scores of kickball and wiffle ball games, in the back 40 of our combined yards, as my neighbor called it, using the rocks that jutted out of the earth as unforgiving bases.
The grass was not manicured or professionally landscaped, but instead, just spacious serenity accompanying the little cape it housed, much like the other houses on our street, with a mom and dad, a dog, and a couple of kids either out of the house or close to it. Our neighborhood was aging, turning over they say, with older folks downsizing and leaving, and younger couples moving in.
When my kids were teenagers, at other parties with other kids, when my white kids were out in our backyard with their mostly white friends, they’d leap over the fence a hundred times, never giving it a second thought.
These kids didn’t give it a second thought either.
Not going there.
Nope. Not gonna happen.
Call the mom. The white mom.
Call the mom. The white mom.
It was bizarre. These adults calling me, in a somewhat joking, mocking way. These grown-ups calling for a grown-up.
It was if they were little kids again, and the ball had rolled into the road, and they had been warned a 1000 times, DO NOT CHASE THE BALL, not ever. You could get hit by a car and hurt. Or worse.
I walked through the game, ducked under the net, toward the fence. I lifted the latch of the gate, and walked across my neighbor’s yard and picked up the ball, and heaved it back over the fence, where it was immediately put into play without ever hitting the ground. The game picked up where it left off, laughing, screaming, belittling each other, oblivious to the boundaries that separated us were so obvious to some, and so oblivious to others.
“They good?” he asked, hesitant, cautious, knowing.
“They good?” one of the guys asked as I walked back toward the house.
“Them up there, they okay?” and he nodded his head toward the yard where the ball would inevitably end up again. He was very handsome, about 25, deep voice, dark skin, beautiful eyes, asking me something I didn’t want to answer.
“Yeah, they’re fine,” I said. “No problem. Go into their yard and grab the ball, or you can call me. I’ll do it if you want.”
“Nah, we got it, as long as they’re good,” and jogged up back into the game.
I went into the house and shut the door, unable to enjoy the celebration continuing without me.
Today I’m delivering the gift basket to the neighbors, not the backyard neighbors I know well and know me, but the new ones across the street, whom I haven’t met yet. The ones with an unobstructed view of my house and driveway, the comings and goings of the people I love.
I’m delivering the menus, wine, cheese, and chocolate, and a little note introducing myself, and telling them we’re a big family, with a lot of different colors, so please don’t call the cops on my kids.
Maybe I need to be the new neighbor someplace else.
Maybe being a white woman on a white street in a white neighborhood in a vastly white town might be exactly why I too, need to jump the fence in search of browner pastures.
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FCWS instructor/guru Patty Dann writing prompt: Neighborhood (Nov 2019)
So totally love the poignant way you describe this sad truth. Thank you.
There was no racism here, except in the mind of the author….In an extreme Cringey way….They way you see color instead of humans, and how these mild-manner folk didn’t feel comfortable going into a neighbors yard they didn’t know… You promote racism, so therefore you see it everywhere, yet it dwells in your head, influenced by the mass media’s entrancement spells.