I have recently begun the discussion of community, neighborhood and sense of belonging. For me, these concepts are continuously illustrated by memories of my grandparents and, more recently, a very real situation involving my grandmother. She turned 90. Yep the big 9-0, and when asked what she wanted to do for the day (besides have friends fawn all over her) she decided she wanted to eat tacos. This is when everyone that knows me rolls their eyes and says “Of course! That’s where your taco obsession must have come from!” Regardless of the taco love affair I may or may not have, we honor her request and travel down the block to her “spot.”
After spending years married to my grandfather in York, Nebraska, she has spent the past few years in a new city a little closer to my mother, her daughter. After moving into her new home finding and creating a new sense of community has presented several challenges for her. A few months back a new Mexican restaurant opened up near her independent living residence and it only took a couple Friday lunches with my dad for her to become hooked. So much so that they know her name, she has her own table and the waiters have memorized her order. It came as no surprise that she chose this restaurant as the location to celebrate with her family the big day.
As we all strolled in they greeted her with a huge smile and a “Happy Birthday Althea!” They then ushered us back to a large awaiting table. Everyone dove into the salsa while my grandmother sunk into her chair with a smile. She was content sipping on a diet coke listening to the excited chatter that comes from three sisters and their husbands all laughing and telling stories. Towards the end of the meal the entire staff came out singing Happy Birthday, complete with a full cake and a birthday present for her. Each time she entered the restaurant she complemented on the Mexican pottery and talked about how beautiful it was. They had taken note and ordered her a piece of her own to take home.
Stuffed to the brim we all hopped in our cars with one last hug and birthday wish to grandma. I immediately leapt into conversation with my husband about how cool I thought it was and how kind this family-run restaurant had just been to my grandmother. This reignited the conversation on community and grew my desire even more to have someone know my name. To have someone acknowledge my birthday. To have a set of people that even if they aren’t blood relatives, had the ability to treat me with the same love and compassion as family members.
I am forever grateful to the family that runs that restaurant for the kindness they continue to bestow on my grandmother. I am hopeful and optimistic about my own situation, and look forward to the change that is coming to my neighborhood. If it is half of what my grandparents knew and created, I will consider myself a lucky woman.
Shake Hands. Eat Together. Know Your Neighbors Name.