Yesterday before church, our family went to Kroger, bought 15 packages of cinnamon-type rolls, and headed for the church neighborhood an hour early. The Whitmores met us there, as did the Wallaces. We each grabbed a couple of bags of the scrumptious-looking pastries and headed down Stanton Street to the houses closest to our church.
Immediately we saw two middle-age gents sitting on a front porch, so we headed over bearing sweets. We introduced ourselves as their new neighbors in the red brick church, asked how long they had lived in the neighborhood, and discovered that they were moving to another town after 30 years of dwelling in the same place. They both seemed depressed and, as was evident from the bottles in brown paper bags and some slurred speech, had been drinking a great deal that afternoon. My heart sank as I thought about the hopelessness they must be feeling and that there was no hope of us having an ongoing relationship with them. But they gratefully accepted the cinnamon rolls, and we moved on. We split into two groups so one group could meet people on the other side of the street.
Next door we met Dwight Evans, an older black man. He was very congenial. I think this was the same man that Amanda invited to a cookout earlier in May. I hope we see more of him and meet his wife. Because there is a fair bit of racial tension in this interracial neighborhood, it may be slow-going to gain their trust and develop friendships with them.
We headed further down the street knocking on many doors and finding no one home more often than otherwise. Perhaps it was a result of the holiday weekend, or perhaps there was some pretending going on. I suppose if I glimpsed a small group of people coming to my front door, I might be more than a little suspicious. Our boys picked up trash from the yards and on the sidewalks as we walked.
The next person we encountered was Heather. She had just moved into a house on Stanton with her boyfriend a few months earlier. Heather was at first reluctant to talk but began warming up as we chatted for a few minutes. At first meeting, she appeared to have the almost universal affliction of low self-esteem and chronic, low level depression that is present in most women of the underclass. She also looked as though she could really use a good friend or two.
Then came the event that our two boys can’t stop talking about: the house with the sign that read, “Trespassers will be shot. Survivors will be shot again.” We didn’t knock on that door but tried to make sure we picked up some trash from the edge of the front yard as a small, but hopefully unintrusive, gift.
We crossed over Mason Street, and in the first house with someone home we met Paula. She was a pleasant woman who quickly put her suspicion of us aside. Paula’s beautiful old home, we discovered, was in the midst of renovation. We told her that the church was also going to be restored, and having a deep appreciation for beautiful architecture, she seemed pleased. Paula told us she has 7 kids from age 9 on into the teens, so we gave her double the cinnamon rolls. My suspicion is that she is either a foster parent or an adoptive parent. She had the air of a Yellow Springs type that has learned how to live freely and care deeply. The kids playing basketball in her backyard were of more than one race. Cool!
Finally, we were running out of time before church and went to one last house across the street. Brian answered the door and accepted the rolls with bright eyes. He said his mom lived in another part of town and “those Adopt-a-Block people were always bringing her good stuff.” When we told him we were with Adopt-a-Block from the church on the corner, we had an instant connection with him, and he offered more information about himself. He was a very pleasant young man, but I couldn’t help but be reminded of our crack addict friend who could make it snow in July when he wanted to make a good impression. It was nice, though, to know that Adopt-a-Block already had a good reputation with him.
As we left his house, I commented that I have never yet seen anyone turn down food we have offered, even on Baltimore Place in the past three years. No matter how suspicious they might appear at first, everyone takes the food. Often they even smile. Good food seems to act as a kind of language of greeting and goodwill that transcends all races and cultures, a common place of understanding and a beginning point for future relationships.
I hope that in the days to come we will build relationships with the Stanton Street people that will be filled with sweetness and nourishment.