Last night’s Halloween trick-or-treat scene near our little house on Providence’s East Side showcased the charms of our more modest nook of the Blackstone neighborhood. On account of its evident friendliness, our district is usually mobbed by families from other neighborhoods. Victoria, Billy and I are usually Halloween grinches and either go to a movie or turn out our lights and hunker down upstairs. Last night, however, at the request of our 9-year-old Angry Bird (“Red”), we stepped out and found a much more friendly, enchanting ambiance than we had expected. (Victoria remained behind, alas, ill abed; she’s much better today, thank you!)
Except for its pumpkin patch and its lack of crowds and paved streets, the image above, from a computer game, resembles our neck of the woods and, no doubt, our sisters east of Hope. (We all “live off Hope,” except for those who live “on Hope,” which is the same.) Our six or eight blocks of bungalows, colonials, cottages, ranches, triple-deckers, Victorians and the like, single and duplex (no manor houses or modernist houses, midcentury or otherwise), are tucked in between Hope and Lorimer Avenue, beyond which lie the much more plush portions of the neighborhood leading to Blackstone Boulevard, Butler Hospital and Swan Point Cemetery. But last night I would not have traded our precinct for any of its ritzier cousins.
We emerged just after dark had fallen. The seasonal but unexpected warmth, after weeks of winter-like cold, had drawn the owners or renters of houses – the “trick-or-treated” as opposed to trick-or-treaters – onto their stoops and porches to hand out candy to all comers. Of these there were so many that lines formed from stoop to sidewalk and beyond. Despite some jostling, the mood was impeccably genial.
The porch has been described by urbanologists as the great mediator between the house and the public. Many of the porches and front yards from which moms and dads (or other couples) handed out candy were decorated to the max, and it was to these houses that families with young children or groups of teens gravitated, eventually ignoring the houses (like ours) with lights out or no one otherwise in evidence.
Billy and I ran into people we know, especially neighbors on their porches, and a family from Billy’s school bus stop, so for the hour we lasted we enjoyed plenty of conviviality. Everyone seemed happy. The streets, though crowded with invading cars, seemed happy. It was almost festive, no, it was festive. It was the classic neighborhood experience, high on sugar. I look forward to next year. Our house has no porch, alas, and our (my) vague plan to build a porch has not advanced. Good porches make good neighborhoods.
Oh well, perhaps next year we will hand out treats from our stoop, maybe even decorate it. In the meantime, to make friendliness a more year-round phenomenon, more people who do have porches should hang out on them more, and not just on Halloween.