Totally by coincidence, our cookout with neighbors on Saturday occurred on what is known as “Burendag” — “Neighbor Day” — in the Netherlands.
We had a visitor from the Netherlands among our guests, too, also coincidentally.
Peter DeVries, part of the delegation visiting Schenectady from Nijkerk, is a houseguest of neighbors Dale, Zoe and Owen, and they brought him to the cookout.
Burendag is not an old custom. It was started only six years ago by the well-known Dutch coffeemakers, Douwe Egberts, who wanted to encourage more contact between neighbors (perhaps over a cup of coffee).
The idea took off, and the event is now marked annually. The philanthropic Orange Funds joined the campaign by offering small grants to pay for neighborhood parties, breakfasts, cleanups and other events that bring people together. (In 2012, some 2,000 neighborhoods submitted requests for funds).
The cookout we hosted for the residents of our street had no subsidy, and it probably won’t lead to anything as grand as the Burendag celebrations of the Netherlands.
But, we’re hopeful it will be the seed from which grows an annual event on our street and maybe throughout the Stockade. (Two different guests already have offered to host next year’s get-together.)
As I was researching “Burendag,” I came across a Dutch saying: “Better a good neighbor than a distant friend.” That summed up our motives in staging our little get-together, which attracted some 30 people over a three-hour period. Some of them we knew reasonably well and some only as people we wave to or holler a greeting to from across the street.
One of the safeguards against crime and other unsavory goings-on in a neighborhood is a vigilant population.
Our thinking is that it’s a lot more likely someone will look out for you, come to your rescue if need be, and care about you a little bit if they know your name as well as your face. It’s a lot harder to look the other way if the person being victimized is a friend.
Nowhere in the city does the importance of neighborhood resonate more than it does in the Stockade, wife Beverly noted as we made our plans. Part of the reason may be the rich history of the area and its early life as a walled conclave and part because of the proximity of one house to another.
We picked a date, which turned out to be the first day of autumn, and Beverly created an invitation that she personally delivered up and down our street. We offered to provide hot dogs and burgers, and invited everyone to come and bring something to share.
We mentioned our plan to people who don’t live on our street but who have an interest in our neighborhood — like the Stockade Association board, the head of our Neighorhood Watch, and various civic officials — and a number of them also attended.
What heartened us most, though, was the enthusiastic response from our neighbors who arrived bearing salads, jugs of wine, plates of cookies and other goodies, all of them in a partying state of mind.
They got to visit with neighbors whom they didn’t know before or get better acquainted with those they did. (Young Owen Oxley helpfully made name tags for anyone willing to wear one.)
The gathering also gave our guests some access to neighborhood association officials, the editor of The Spy neighborhood newsletter, and elected representatives, including their county legislator and the mayor.
After everyone had left and we had rushed to bring dishes inside in time to beat the rainstorm that was approaching, we took stock. Our little neighborhood cookout was more of a success than we had hoped it would be.
We also recapped some of the memorable moments, though oddly missing from them was any mention of my dramatic fall backward — in slow motion — into a tall thicket of herbs from which I hollered “I’ve been basilized!”
But neighbor Larry’s playing the bagpipes was certainly a highlight, and there was the reaction of some people to Mayor Gary McCarthy.
Beverly overheard one neighbor ask him if he worked for the city.
“Sometimes,” he replied.
Irv Dean is the Gazette's city editor. Opinions expressed in his column are his own and not necessarily those of the newspaper. Reach him by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.