Seven years ago, I made my home on a tattered hillside, amongst mature magnolia trees and slippery moss covered steps. The driveway was rocky and steep - hard to get up, especially in the rain. An older couple with an overgrown oak tree and lonely labradors overlooked our back yard and our home loomed over an empty lot owned by a neighboring octogenarian. No street lights lit the crooked street at night and no sidewalks paved our steps to a neighbor's house. I was a newly married woman busy with my career and my commute.
Shortly after we moved in, a neighbor knocked on my door to invite me to play Bunco, which the neighborhood women played once a month. Being the shy and hermitish sort, I made an excuse. Eventually, I gave in and gathered with the local ladies to play. Bunco, if you do not know it, is a simple game played with three dice. You work your way from 1 to 6 and try to roll as many 1's, 2's and so on as possible. We played in two teams of two per table. You'd pair up with the woman across from you, whomever that was, and play until the timer went off. The team with highest score would stay put and the "losers" would rotate to the next table. Neighbors took turns hosting and refreshments were mild - a plate of cookies, some wine. We each put $5 in a till at the beginning of the night and the person with the highest score at the end of the night took home the kitty. The biggest loser got their $5 back.
Women of all ages and backgrounds came to our Bunco games. I was just as likely be to set across from a retired nurse as a young mother of twins as an eighty year old still living in her girlhood home as the city grew up around her. The game spawned a couple true friendships but more so, a sense of belonging, of knowing who lives on your street - what their dining rooms look like, what kind of food they serve, what their hobbies are.
I now live in a neighboring city. Our schools are lauded as some of the best in the area. The houses sit close, bordered with straight and smooth sidewalks, precisely mowed lawns and measured flower beds. At night, bright street lights glow. It is a short walk to downtown, the library, and the local Starbucks (both of them). My lot is flat, my driveway easy to maneuver. I know my adjoining neighbors and the elderly woman across the street. I wave to a few other folks on the block but know neither their names nor what their homemade cookies taste like.
Here, we socialize strictly by category. The mothers with school aged children talk. The parents of college aged kids talk. The empty nesters talk. And, as far as I can tell, no one talks to the old woman across the street.
How much might my neighborhood - or yours - benefit from an old fashioned round of Bunco? From a toss of dice, a bottle of wine and a bid to win a pot of money - or at least your $5 back? There are few ways to regain community - particularly the kind that binds together generations - and none so simple as this. All it really takes, though, is someone to roll the dice, invite the neighbors and see if anyone shows up. This spring, I think, I will give it a try.