Christmas can be one of the few opportunities for people to get to know their neighbors, especially in the Silicon Valley. So many people live in condos and apartment buildings here, and I regularly hear about people who have lived in the same place for years and never even met their neighbors.
While growing up, both April and I had parents that had us making home-made cookies and passing them out to the neighbors some time around Christmas. In April’s neighborhood in Tulsa, the love is passed around, and there is often more plates of various brownies, caramels, peanut brittle and the like received from the neighbors than passed out. It’s a sign of a great neighborhood.
Two years ago, we moved to Dumbarton Ave. in East Palo Alto, near the center of the city and close to the school where RYAA does most of its work. As Christmas Eve approached, we thought that doing the Christmas cookie thing would be a great way to meet our new neighbors. As we started making the cookies, I could sense that my children were a little nervous. It seemed to be a mix of not knowing what to expect, and having teenagers who simply didn’t want to look stupid. Were we going to look like a crazy white family trying to show off and just make things worse? Were we going to make people feel bad if they didn’t have anything to give back? Legitimate questions.
The first house went OK, and we received some smiles. But the second house was the beginning of things to come. With a big smile, this neighbor said, “Wow, thanks! You want to come in? We have tamales!” Well, there is a special place in my heart for good tamales. We had a great time, and left 30 minutes later with full bellies, and ready to go to our third house.
We went a few houses down to the home of one of our soccer families, and noticed they had a fire going out in the front yard and some family standing around. We were welcomed to the fire with smiles and passed the cookies around. And then I noticed a big pot on the fire. We were beckoned to the pot, and as the mom lifted the lid, she said, “Carnitas”. I was staring into about 40 pounds of stewed pork meet, simmering in beer and spices. 30 minutes later, I had enough. We stumbled back towards home, about 4 houses away.
As we got past 2 houses, I recognized another neighbor, one of our soccer dads, in front of his house. We dropped off some cookies, and he said to come back in a few hours, their party was going to get going. 2 hours later, as I approached their house, I saw a big crowd in the front yard, surrounding a huge blow up pillow, similar to one of those bounce houses, but without the top. In the middle of the pillow, was a mechanical bull. A child was riding the bull, and the bored looking Mexican operator was giving the child a nice, fun, slow ride.
Wow, I always wanted to ride one of those. My neighbor, with a big smile, invited me to get in line behind the kids. Cool, this will be fun. As I got on the bull, my neighbor’s smile got bigger. In fact the whole crowd was smiling, including the bull operator. As we got going, my belly started reminding me of the two large meals I had a few hours earlier. After about 60 seconds, I wondered when the ride ends. The operator’s smile got bigger, and the ride got faster. The ride ends when you fall off. Somehow, my bottom found a seam between two pillows, and I found a spot that wasn’t quite so soft. An experience I will never forget.
I was taught a few lessons that Christmas (like, never ride a mechanical bull on a full stomach and always ask how the ride ends). Anyway, I encourage you to reach out to your neighbors this Christmas, and don’t let those little voices make you feel stupid. You never know what will happen.