“MOMMY! DADDY!” Daughter comes running into the family room the other day, shouting and panting hard. “We just saw a family looking at the house for sale across the street and they have two kids—a boy and a girl—and guess what else? They’re BLACK!“
The Mister and I go running into the dining room to look out of the big picture window that looks out on the house across the street with the “For Sale” sign in the lawn. We strain, we peer, we jockey for position. The family comes out and stands in the driveway, apparently reviewing the visit with their realtor. They are just as Daughter described them. The Daughters and I move away, me fearing How We Must Look. The Mister stands there for a while. (Later he tells me he wanted to make sure they saw him.)
Later, away from the kids, we two adults confer. Was the relatively short length of time they were in there a No-this-is-definitely-not-what-we-were-looking-for amount of time? Or was it a This-is-perfect-write-the-offer amount of time?
We hope it was the latter…
We were excited about moving to the quiet cul-de-sac. The house was perfect for us, and we were tired of looking. Our Black realtor told us there was another Black family living in the subdivision, as well as two Black families in the subdivision across the major road from us, and several in the one down the road. I worried just a tad at this news that, I am sure, she meant to deliver comfortingly or even bragging-ly. Was there a list kept of all the African American families in this suburb? Would we be required to submit Papers or keep the authorities of some kind or another updated on our whereabouts?
But the thought soon passed. I was not worried. There would be nothing so dramatic as cross burnings next to our mailbox. Maybe some sideways glances, but nothing more, right?
It was just my luck that when the first neighbors came to our door to welcome us to the neighborhood shortly after we moved in, I just happened to be blasting Lil Wayne on our whole-house audio system. There I was trying to chat with a husband, wife, teenaged girl and pre-teen boy who all looked like they stepped out of an L. L. Bean catalog, there standing with a plate of homemade cupcakes and bottle of wine, all the while Wayne Carter quipped about Masarati dancin and bridge pu**y-poppin. Efforts to figure out how to turn down the volume of the high tech controls failed so we all stood there screaming (over Weezie) about moving here from Minnesota (“…Sicilian bi*** with long hair…“) though we were originally from this area back in the 80s (“...open the Lamborghini hopin’ them crackers see me…”) and what school did you say your kids would be attending (“…And I be the shit now you got loose bowels...”).
After they left I closed the door, cupcakes in hand, certain we’d never see our new neighbors again. But still, no drama, right?
I will never forget the first time I did see our realtor-registered Black neighbors. I was driving out of the subdivision and she was driving in. We both almost lost control of our cars for trying to glance back to see each other. I hoped I managed a friendly wave and smile before righting my front wheels. That Halloween my kids and I trick-or-treated at these neighbors’ house. The Black woman from the car opened the door with her basket of candy treats. The two of us made eye contact and smiled at each other goofily over the heads of the waiting ghosts and ghouls, princesses and pirates. The other parents trick-or-treating with me probably wondered if we two were OK.
We had this one neighbor who visited us early on while we were working in our garage, our garage door open. “Visited” is not quite the right word, and neither would it be quite correct to say we had a “conversation” or “chat.” He pretty much interviewed us: where each of us (my husband and me) went to college, what each of us did for a living. At one point he appeared satisfied. He then went into an extended riff on our fellow neighbors: which families were part of the original cohort that built these homes, who was retired, the one woman who was a single mom… Slowly I had a sense that I should try to bring the conversation to a close. But I was too late. The man started talking about the subdivision’s two Asian families: The one was OK, they were both university professors, but the other one “from Japan or something” couldn’t speak a lick of English and—he “wasn’t racist or anything”—but it’s just so hard to understand them—“though they seem really nice, polite”—so he just tries not to have to interact with them at all.
The Mister, who is less tactful than I am, got up and abruptly walked into the house. Leaving me to say, “__________.” (I leave that blank in the hopes that I come up with a sufficiently appropriate anti-racist come-back to insert later.)
That neighbor left our garage with me knowing I would never speak to him again.
Finally, I thought, some drama.
A neighbor was telling me about the monthly parties the subdivision has. They’re called “Flamingo Parties,” she told me. You’ll know when and where we’re going to have one when you see the big, kitschy, plastic bright pink flamingo planted in someone’s yard, she said. Oh. And they’re adult-only.
Now at this point I must provide some background. I was a child of the seventies. My father was a psychology grad student, my mother a teacher and musician, and we lived on a college campus. My parents hosted a lot of “adult-only” parties. My sister and I often helped with the set-up: mixing the 7-Up/High-C/wine punch, setting the ashtrays out strategically, flipping through LPs and judging the album covers to decide which ones should be played. At one point I was tall enough to stand up in a chair and hang my parents’ favorite mobile from the ceiling of the hallway at the junction of the living room, dining room, and bedrooms. The mobile was a series of one-way signs, each hung vertically from one string so that the one way signs drifted slowly round and round. On each sign was a different word: straight, gay, bi, curious, observer…probably some others I cannot recall.
I’d never heard back then of “flamingo parties,” but I imagined they just might be interesting. At any rate, I was about to find out!!!
Or, not. It was just a party. A bunch of adults standing around over small bits of food stuck through with thoothpicks and drinking imported beers and talking about plumbers and hardwood floor installation companies.
No word yet about the house across the street and the Black family that visited it. We made an effort to try to get some friends of ours to look at the house. We’ve had fantasies about them moving across the street, registering with the proper authorities, and becoming our neighbors as well as our friends. I have known the woman in the family for years, since my first graduate school days. But quite miraculously, our husbands bonded, our kids bonded, and we re-bonded—and all of us bonded with each other. As hard as one-on-one relationships are, finding compatible family-on-family relationships are even harder. Trust.
But we all fell into deep friendship with each other.
I don’t think they are going to move into the house, however. I shouldn’t be so greedy, considering where they live now is only about 8 minutes away by car.
Whoever moves in I will try to be neighborly. I’ll bring a bottle of wine over and a box of store-bought cupcakes and make small-talk. If they ask me about the neighbors and the neighborhood I’ll be honest: On average everyone is pretty nice. And the cul-de-sac? Pretty quiet.