Friday, August 1, 2003
Neighborhood progressive dinner staves off "Lonelyville"
Ever since a young mother in town dubbed Carlisle "Lonelyville" in a town survey because of the lack of gathering places and isolation from neighbors, Carlisleans have been conducting unofficial debates on the positives and negatives of rural life. The (unofficial) consensus seems to be: we can have it all in Carlisle. We can have the joys of rural living while still enjoying frequent contact with our neighbors, even if it does require some extra effort and initiative on our parts.
As one who has been publicly making this claim for months, I concluded recently that it was time for me to put these assertions to the test. I decided to plan a gathering to bring together the people living along the stretch of North Road that I have identified as my "neighborhood". Admittedly, I felt a bit nervous about the prospect. My family and I have lived in Carlisle less than three years and had met (in most cases, only briefly) perhaps a fourth of the people I hoped to invite. Sadly, I didn't even know many of their names. This became my first task. After the phone book left some gaps in my research, I discovered the existence of a book in the town clerk's office that lists the names of Carlisle residents by street. (Locals in the know call this the "Nosy Book".)
Armed with this vital information, I chose a Saturday in June and decided to plan a neighborhood progressive dinner. In short, a progressive dinner involves several homes, with participants switching houses for different courses. Although conceivably, one could feature any number of courses, I decided to keep it simple: we'd gather everyone at our house for the appetizer course, break into smaller groups for the entrée at houses throughout the neighborhood, then all reconvene at one house for dessert.
I composed an invitation letter, explaining the progressive dinner concept, and requesting that everyone contribute, either by hosting a group of people in their home or preparing food, to be delivered to a host house the day of the dinner. Then, feeling excited and hopeful and apprehensive, I sent out the invitations. There was, of course, a gamble involved. Would the numbers work out appropriately so I would have enough hosts and enough food-preparers? Would the datein the middle of graduation and vacation seasonwork out for people? Or even more unsettling: would these mysterious, unknown neighbors of mine rebuff my attempt at neighborliness? Even though I'm a native New Englander myself, I know New England reserve can be a tricky thing, especially in a town where people value their privacy so highly. Would anybody come?
I soon had my answer. Responses flooded innot only from neighbors who were enthusiastic about attending, but from those who couldn't come yet loved the idea. One neighbor offered to make a dessert even though she couldn't attend. Another stopped by with regrets, while still generously providing several bottles of wine for the occasion. Twenty neighbors responded in the affirmative and offered to help in any way they could. Apprehension was quickly replaced by anticipation.
Although I'd imagined a balmy June evening in which we strolled leisurely from house to house, the Saturday of the progressive dinner featured (no big surprise) a steady rain all day. Even so, spirits were not dampened by the weather. From the moment the first neighbors arrived at our door, there was a light atmosphere of fun, camaraderie and celebration. With all the lively conversation, it was hard to believe that some of the people present had never met. After mingling as a group over appetizers, each couple drew at random the name of a host house and we split up into groups of six or eight for the entrée course. In smaller groups, we had the opportunity to get better acquainted, as well as enjoying a chance to see another beautiful home in our neighborhood. Later, we moved cheerfully on to a third house to gather again as a group for dessert and coffee.
My verdict on my first attempt at a neighborhood gathering: It was an unmitigated success. In addition to the fact that I have happily discovered my neighbors to be friendly and interesting folks, I think the progressive dinner concept itself provides a unique vehicle for getting people together. Everyone contributed to the evening, so everyone had a sense of ownership, and progressing from house to house added a fun element of adventure and change-of-scenery. In short, a good time was had by all, and it was gratifying to hear all the positive feedback from those who attended. I look forward to making the North Road neighborhood progressive dinner an annual (or even bi-annual) event.
Carlisle as "Lonelyville"? I can now say · from experience · that this does not have to be the case. In Carlisle, we can indeed have it all.
© 2003 The Carlisle Mosquito