In my neighborhood, each driveway is pretty much a snapshot of the next on Halloween. Snapping fires rise from washtubs turned firepits or new Target-purchased varieties. Smiling folks in sweatshirts stand or sit around the blaze, chatting and laughing. Carved pumpkins gleam, the wine is open, and folding chairs welcome additional stoppers-by. Our kids — many considered by some too old to trick-or-treat — are doing just that. And in the classic fashion, mind you, in full costume with pillow cases to carry the candy stash. More importantly, they seem to carry a delight, an unabashed holiday fervor perhaps more akin to 9-year-olds circa 1956 than current-day, supposedly jaded Southern California 14-year-olds.
In waves they come, families and children of all ages. Fully costumed adults as well as tiny children. Neighbors mingle, browsing house to house while kids fill their bags with sugary wonders. Some folks roast marshmallows, and laughter rises and falls throughout the neighborhood. A few playful screams erupt from the neighborhood haunted house erected a couple of hours ago.
Last year a young couple we didn’t recognize approached our driveway and we invited some chat. The two traveled from Carmel Valley to visit our ’hood, because they’d heard of our happenings and wanted to “feel like” Halloween. We’re taken back a bit; our part of town is not as tony as theirs, but their smiles suggest their envy of what we have. Not Beemers and Range Rovers in every driveway, privileged stay-at-home moms and top-priced properties. But community, old-fashioned fun. They explain their neighborhood is barren on Halloween, barely a jack-o’-lantern out and no trick-or-treaters. Truth told, we feel a bit redeemed. Our community takes its fair share of jabs.
At Fourth of July, it’s a block party. Lemonade stands sprout up early in the day and kids run around in bathing suits. Men haul barbeques to the cul-de-sac and start setting up canopies. Moms are completing potluck dishes and putting batteries in the camera. By noon, the celebration starts with a bike parade. Children have decorated their bikes and scooters with streamers and pinwheels and commence down the block, ringing bells to rally the troops. The celebration includes an inflated bouncy-jump (sure to keep the kids sweaty and sticky all day), a band playing mostly classic and ’80s rock ’n’ roll, and nearly 100 folks (ages approximately infant to eighty-two) engaged in potato-sack races, relay games, and a fierce four-square competition. The events culminate with a colossal water balloon fight before dinner. By the time we settle down with our ice cream to watch fireworks (viewable from many backyards and the westerly end of the block), we realize our Fourth has been complete Americana.
In a typical day, our children romp up and down the street playing at no less than four of one another’s houses. There are at least ten pairs of trusted parental eyes gazing at them as they traverse the neighborhood. It takes a village indeed. And my teen daughter laments, “We never get away with anything here — it’s like having 15 friggin’ moms.” (Ah, what her Dad and I dreamed of when buying a home here ten years ago.) Not only did we attend countless birthday parties over the years, our own adult friendships have resulted in a raucous neighborhood bunko group comprised of six couples (barely a shadow of the original Victorian parlor game, I assure you), involving exquisite dinners, and one of the three M’s: margaritas, mojitos, or martinis. We gather monthly for bunko and travel together every other year including cruises and Cancun and 30-some odd people with children spoiled or savvy enough to know room service and passports. When we tell people we are all families from the same block they are shocked. It’s pretty fabulous.
Our neighborhood is surrounded by hills and open space, though development has begun to encroach. Good and bad as I see it. While tired of our town’s back country image and welcoming to some fresh stucco and contrived palm-lined landscape to identify us as part of SoCal suburbia, part of what makes my neighborhood — my town — great are the open hills and hawks and coyotes. The lack of crowds and the San Diego River that winds through, still prompting children to pick up a fishing pole and go exploring. The decaying drive-in is an eyesore, but poignant, too. A reminder of days gone by — yet still here. Because in my neighborhood you can spot uniformed Little Leaguers dotting ballfields every day. Messages like “The Thunder All-Stars Rock! Go Jimmy!” seem to emblazon every SUV and on fall weekends, shin guards and tall socks are fashion de rigueur as soccer season starts. It’s a town crammed full of kids’ programs and involved families and that’s pretty cool.
In my neighborhood I bump into three to five people I know —and like — at the grocery store. My quick trip becomes an hour or more because I have discussed the Padres, PTA, and the great new restaurant in town with Nancy over the grapefruits at Albertson’s. This is my neighborhood. It’s a 20-minute drive to La Jolla Shores. An eternity for some perhaps, but I know my family and I savor the beach more than countless coast dwellers who don’t appreciate the sand and the Pacific, but only the status of a zip code and lofty label. Sad enough.
I’ve questioned that the stigma is perpetuated by the sheer sound of the name: Santee. What if we renamed ourselves Tierrasol? We are just east of Tierrasanta and it does get hot out here. Seems appropriate enough. But who am I trying to please? Some fellow residents agree we shall keep what we know a secret. That friendships and childhoods like these don’t happen so easy anymore. And we’re pretty damn lucky to live in a neighborhood like ours.