Rock around the block

  • Article by: BY KIM ODE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 30, 2012 - 3:15 PM

Block parties are a summer ritual, but some neighbors in south Minneapolis have taken neighborliness to another level, year-round, for generations.

A block of neighbors who actually are neighborly is a wondrous thing. In Minneapolis, the 5000 block of Aldrich Avenue S. practically warbles with neighborliness.

Its annual block party always has a theme, always results in way too much food and always welcomes back former neighbors who, while they may have moved, never really left.

Then there is the blood feud with the 5100 block.

That's overstating it a bit, but it's the sort of jest traded last Saturday when the two blocks met for a volleyball duel, almost 40 years after the initial battle of the bumpers, setters and spikers. Kids on the 1973 team, such as Heather Christie, now are pushing middle age. But she's still there.

"I'm in the house I grew up in," said Christie, who ticked off several other generational households on the block, as well as longtime owners such as Mr. Moore or Mrs. Johnson. Then she laughed.

"Now that I'm almost 50, she hates that I call her Mrs. Johnson, but that's what she is," Christie said.

Mrs. Johnson -- that would be Sharron -- has lived here 46 years, moving with their 2-year-old to a house that was affordable "and had the novelty of a plane going over every once in a while."

"It was well established, with most families having seven, eight, nine children," she said. "I looked around and said, 'Wow, we'd better get busy.'" At one time in the late 1960s, the block was home to 106 kids.

Residents have aged since then, yet the theme for this year's party was "Sports! Sports! Sports!," with a nod to the Olympic Games.

Each household selected a country to represent with an authentic dish at the potluck. The day's activities included breakfast, opening ceremonies, a zumba session, ping-pong matches, a javelin toss and even an equestrian event with stick ponies that Christie made.

Hula hoops were wired together as Olympic rings, serving as beanbag toss goals during the day, then were strung with twinkle lights at night. Hung high across the street was a homemade banner, carefully stored from year to year, proclaiming, in calligraphy, "Love Thy Neighbor."

They do, fairly often. Christie said a popular winter tradition is Wine Around the Block, a progressive happy hour of sorts, with one side of the block supplying hors d'oeuvres, while the other side offers desserts. Then there's Blocktoberfest, in which the opposite sides provide different beers made at a brew-your-own place in St. Paul.

Lest this all sound a bit tipsy (but isn't that the beauty of having everything within walking distance?) there also have been classes in square dancing, tango and Western line dancing, and once a professional hula hooper shared the basics of hip-swiveling. Last year, they did a history walk through the 'hood, learning about the Washburn Tower and the new monument near Minnehaha Parkway where a Northwest Orient airliner crashed during a snowstorm in 1950.

While believing her block to be special, Johnson is happily confident that it's not unique.

Minneapolis is known for its block parties, many inspired by the National Night Out (NNO) movement, now in its 29th year. Last year, there were an estimated 1,400 block parties in the city, making it the top spot for participation for large cities, as it's been for eight of the past 10 years. St. Paul's participation is regularly among the top for mid-sized cities. (This year's National Night Out is next Tuesday.)

NNO is rooted in concerns about crime, but many blocks come together over pasta salads and grilled burgers for no other reason than that the neighbors like hanging out with one another. "We know each other completely," said Johnson, 69, even to the point of freely lending out extension ladders and tools with every confidence of their return.

When she first moved onto the block, Johnson said, most of the women were homemakers, raising kids and keeping up through morning kaffeeklatsches. Now there's an e-mail list for everyone on the block, which simplifies life, but has consequences that bear watching.

"Sometimes we lose sight of what is in front of our faces," she said. "We get wrapped up in our iPhones and cellphones. But if someone's outside walking around, it won't be long before someone else comes out to join them."

As Christie said of her dear neighbor Mr. Moore, who's 82: "He doesn't have the Internet -- he just goes outside to get the updates."

Kim Ode • 612-673-7185

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