This is what I saw at the bottom of my driveway one Sunday morning in late May when I pulled out to go to church. A frat party gone bad? A bunch of kids partying in my yard?
But, no, I didn't cringe when I saw these chock-full recycle bins...I smiled. I recalled the great time we'd had the day before getting ready for and then helping to host our annual neighborhood party. I laughed when I remembered the multiple generations pitching in to make a huge feast on the checkerboard of tables we set up in the street.
These two recycle bins contained the remains of pizza boxes, soda cans, water bottles, a half dozen ketchup and mustard bottles that were the base of homemade BBQ sauce, juice boxes, Snow cone cups and yes, a few beer cans and wine bottles too.
This party is a neighborhood tradition on our street and several adjoining ones dating back well beyond our 20 years in our house. The "young families" (now in our 40s and 50s) took over from the "older families' to host this extravaganza 10 years ago or so, but we think the tradition dates back a good 30 years.
Several years ago, the guys on the street decided to start cooking a pig, ribs and chicken to complement the potluck spread everyone had traditionally contributed to the party. They start prepping the pig around 9 a.m. fortified by Krispy Kreme donuts and coffee (OK...probably some Bloody Marys too).
The "half pig" is moved ceremoniously from the make-shift cooler on the back of the golf cart onto the big grill. It gets wrapped in chicken wire so it's easy to turn as the day goes on.
While the prepping of the pig is the first order of the day, the bigger, and surely more important, event comes when the jump castle is delivered mid-morning. Every year we wonder if there are still enough little kids in the neighborhood to justify the expense of this. But every year, when the jump castle guys come to retrieve it about 9:00 the night of the party, we are reminded that yes, it was worth the expense.
It's like the kids have some sort of underground communications network to know when the jump castle has arrived. Before it's even fully inflated, we can hear the pounding of kids' feet running down the street to hop in.
The BBQ cooks set up shop on the side of the street to keep an eye on the jump castle and the pig throughout the day. And knowing there's someone out "manning the pig" all day, parents are willing to let the kids jump to their heart's content all day long.
About 5 p.m. the saucing of the pig begins. The three master BBQ experts who have toiled over the nuances of three sauce types all day start slathering on the sauce. Then around 6:30 the picking of the pig starts. The BBQ experts delicately pull the meat and brush on the sauce so guests can easily get to it.
Then the bounty of the pot luck materializes as we start peeling back the tinfoil to reveal the glory of goodies ranging from mac and cheese to baked beans and homemade coconut cake to fruit salad.
The guys pull the ribs and chicken off the grill and serve them from a cooler that keeps then warm and messy. The adults pick their BBQ right off the grill with the choice of three homemade secret recipe sauces while the kids tumble out of the jump castle to eat too. Great food and fellowship make the recipe for the evening.
Around 8:30, the crowd of 100 or so neighbors, neighborhood "alums," family members of neighbors and a few honorary neighbors starts to break up. The teenagers drive golf carts to deliver some of the older neighbors back home. We pack up and drop off care packages of leftovers for several neighbors who are housebound. Many hands make light work to clean up the mess.
But the night isn't done yet! After the mess is cleaned up, the Herbie Curbies filled and the recycle bins overflowing, we circle up folding chairs around a burn barrel dragged out to the middle of the street. The party hosts with a few random friends thrown in, sip on another beer, strum a few guitar tunes and enjoy the first of many warm weather gatherings on the street. Summer has arrived.