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“Hey, Liz! Santa’s coming over at 7:30! Wanna come?” The invitation pierced the soggy gloom. It was my neighbor, emerging from her car with both hands weighted with holiday bags stuffed with toys. Across the street white lights swathed an evergreen tree and outlined the roof of another bungalow. It felt like the whole world was holding its breath.

“Sloane and Clark can’t wait. There’ll be other kids, too,” she added, her boots squishing the bent grass as she approached me.

The little kid within, stirred: Memories of waiting in line for Santa, of Mother unbuttoning my snowsuit and removing the knit cap from my brown hair electrified by the dry air. The music and jingling bells, jumbled pieces of chatter, babies crying—all disconcerted me. I was leery. Only my hand in Mother’s could contain my flip-flop feelings. Each Christmas, we rode the trolley downtown to enjoy the animated windows encircling St. Louis’s Famous-Barr Department Store, then to visit Santa. I was always glad to return home.

I was next. Within moments, arms hoisted me upon Santa’s lap, his whiskers brushing my cheek. My words dried up.

Then it was over until the next Christmas, the box of paper dolls with blunt scissors under my arms.

It seems like the greatest gifts are sourced within terrifying moments as if to strip us of securities that stunt spiritual growth. That’s been my experience, gratitude only coming later, with new lessons learned.

 

 

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The sign is old, weather-worn, its letters somewhat faded, but again the invitation is extended:

 

 

No matter the overcast skies, the chill in the air—barricades close off the street to vehicular traffic, cloth-covered tables and folding chairs fill the cul-de-sac, and neighbors carrying hot and cold platters and bowls filled with choice recipes spill onto the sidewalk. Their steps suggest enthusiasm, camaraderie, and anticipation that new residents will join in on the fun around the brazier fire.

What’s unusual about this block party is its longevity. Established in 1973 by a handful of residents, intent upon creating a haven for their growing children, the annual gathering did just that. Within this ambiance they thrived, as well as countless others, in succeeding decades. Currently, ten children below the age of seven are blossoming; another attends high school and two in universities.

Such neighborliness has fused a tangible energy that still pulsates among the twenty-two brick bungalows that line Douglas Court. Like kaleidoscopes with ever-changing jeweled vistas, stories abound: babies, grandbabies, graduations, birthday and anniversary parties, holiday gatherings, diminishments, even deaths, each illumined by the waxing and waning of sun-years.

Such a privilege to have lived on Douglas Court for over twelve years! I’m so grateful—and there have been many signs.

 

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