The strange irony I always found about living in Chicago was despite the fact we were within inches of a myriad of neighbors along our beautiful tree-lined northside neighborhood, everyone generally kept to themselves. Having grown up in the South, this took a bit of getting used to once I arrive in the big city. There were families nearby as well as tiny postage stamp parks where we would all take our children to play, yet neighbors, while friendly, never seemed to bond that closely.
For all the stereotypical hyperbole we endure as suburbanites and Napervillians, one thing we have mastered is the celebration of neighbors and neighborhoods. Yesterday our cul-de-sac celebrated our annual summer block party and I must say it was a perfect day that lasted well into the night. Like many neighborhoods, it seldom takes a special occaision during the warm months for neighbors and their families to gather together outside on any given evening. But the annual block party is an extra special celebration for us all, especially the children.
Our party started early in the afternoon with the relentless anticipation of our children anxious to get started. Keeping in tradition, we have a bike and power wheel parade where all of the children deocrate their bikes/vehicles and parade around the circle. In watching the spectacle, I’m not sure what is more amusing, the kids riding as an innocent yet menacing pack or the parents scrambling with their video and still cameras to capture the perfect visual memory of the moment.
From the bike parade, the kids move on to slip-n-slides, sprinklers, wading pools as well as a rented moon jump. A talent show organized by some of the older kids takes place on one of our neigbor’s garage. Tables are set up with plenty of snacks and beverages. The men set up chairs in a circle across the street as they talk northside vs. southside baseball commentary and enjoy a selection of fresh beer courtesy of our neighborhood brewmaster who kegs his own recipe pilsner and IPA. On the other side of the street, the women gather together to catch up and chat about, well we men are not exactly sure what they are chat about but they certainly have much to say.
On our cul-de-sac, two sets of those increasingly popluar bean bag boards serve as a centerpoint and are fully equipped with lights for after dark. A tournament is conducted and in usual fashion my teamed partner and I went out in the first round. Nonetheless, I must brag that two guys from our cul-de-sac won the corn toss tournament at this year’s Naper Days. Thus, you can imagine the caliber of competition.
Each year, either the Naperville Fire Department or Police Department drops by for a demonstration for the kids and the opporutnity to get up close to their equipment. This year, the kids were thrilled to see Officer Chris Sherman pull up in his K-9 unit with this german shephard partner Soldier. Not only did the kids get a wonderful demonstration of Soldier’s talents but also were able to crawl through the back seat of the K-9 unit car. Our thanks again to Officer Sherman, Soldier and the Naperville Police Department.
As evening arrives, a couple of grills come out and we all take turns cooking our various barbeque selections ranging from steak to lamb burgers, turkey burgers, beef burgers and, of course, plenty of hot dogs for the kids. Each neighbor also offers up a side dish which is shared with all. This year, my wife made a tomoato caprese salad and homemade frozen chocolate malt bars dipped in chocolate which was a big hit with the kids as well as the adults.
After dinner, the kids seem to kick into an even higher gear despite the fact they had been running around in the sun most of the day. Perhaps it has something to do with the special occaision and all of the extra sugar that goes with it. As the sun begins to set, the adults have settled into the variety of portable chairs which are assembled around the bean bag boards set up in the middle of the street. The party keeps going except for the moments we all pause as conscientous parents to yell “CAAARRRR!!!” as those who not joining in the party work their way through.
The darkness of night arrives, the air becomes a bit breezier and cooler and the gentle scent of burning wood fills the air as the outdoor fireplace is lit for the purpose of warmth as well as smoke to keep the pesky flying terrorist insects from eating us alive. At one point, all of the moms climbed into the moon jump in an attempt to demonstrate that they “haven’t lost it” while the kids could be heard for blocks howling with laughter.
Slowly, one-by-one, the kids start to retire for the evening starting with the very youngest working up to what we call the “last kid standing”, which ironically this year was my six year-old who made it until about 11:30 PM. A quick tip to all Naperville parents, if your child wins the title of “last kid standing” it is probably not the best idea to drag them to Naperville Art Fair the next morning.
Once the kids are in bed, the adults enjoy some peaceful grown-up time in continuing with the “spirits” of the party if you catch my drift. This was also the time in which one neighbor brought out a tray full of jello shots so we could all remember our younger carefree days.
After arriving at the point where we can’t bare to lift another bean bag, the adults thought it would be amusing to pack into the moon jump and have a little covert childish fun jumping around while our unknowing children exhaustedly slept in their beds. The husbands jumped as the wives involuntarily flew up into the air as they attempted to simply sit on the cushion of air. All of sudden, two of the largest guys on the cul-de-sac lost their footing and fell against the netted walls of the moon jump slipping slowly and powerlessly to the ground where they found themselves entrapped in the collapsing roof. At one point, all that could be seen was their trapped feet as we all laughed our way to tears paralyzed by the humor of the moment entrapped our temporary prison of inflated air. I’m pleased to report, both were able to work their way out of their netted inflated prison, the moon jump survived unharmed and no child witnessed any part of these hillarious chain of events.
After recovering from the moment, we all crawled out through the tiny entrance to the moon jump, picked up the remnants of the block party and called it a night.
Yes, it was another great summer block party. Sadly, it’s easy to see how all of our children are growing quickly and that these precious days are fleeting. Though one day they will all be too cool to play games and attack their parents with hugs and kisses, for today we will continue to pause as neighbors to celebrate life and family amidst our otherwise busy and demanding lives. This is a reflection of the true spirit of Naperville.