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In our own backyard...Who's your neighbor?

An elderly man and woman sat in lawn chairs in the shade of a large willow tree, balancing red plastic plates of food and tall glasses of lemonade in their laps.

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An elderly man and woman sat in lawn chairs in the shade of a large willow tree, balancing red plastic plates of food and tall glasses of lemonade in their laps.

A couple of kids enthusiastically lobbed beanbags at a pair of nylon goal nets.

Soap bubbles floated, apparently out of thin air, across the lawn, occasionally smacking unsuspecting picnickers in the backs of their necks or against their cheeks.

A tow-headed boy of about five made the rounds showing off his blue tongue and lips from the blue raspberry snow cone he sucked on.

Hot dogs and burgers sizzled on the grill, and a couple of church ladies dipped ice cream out of a cooler to make root beer floats.

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It was the ultimate summer scene - that Norman Rockwellian moment when the simple pleasures of life outweigh the worries and time and space seem to come together in perfect harmony. It was, quite simply, National Night Out.

Ken and I attended the event in the parking lot of our church, which is set in the midst of a multi-faceted neighborhood of college kids, young people and the elderly. Those who were involved in planning the event weren't certain just who would show up, but the hope was that not only would old ties be strengthened but new ones would be forged.

As many of you probably already know, the National Night Out event was first started a number of years ago in an effort to bring neighbors together so they could get to know each other better. It seems that gone is the day of neighborly gestures of people like my mom, who used to bring a loaf of fresh banana bread to the new folks who moved in next door. Sadly, today many would more likely peek out the corner of the drapes and wonder suspiciously who you are and what you want....

On Tuesday night, there were no strangers. As soon as someone unfamiliar wandered up to the food line, they immediately became part of the group. The young men from Woodland Hills in Duluth who had volunteered to help set up tables and serve the food jumped right into the spirit of the moment.

"Could I interest you in a burger?" one of them asked me, after spotting me standing there alone.

"Well, yes - that would be great!" I replied with pleasure.

"What's your name?" he asked.

"Wendy."

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He turned to the young man at the grill and said. "Miss Wendy here would like a burger!"

That set a remarkable string of events into motion.

"Do you want cheese on that burger?" the man at the grill asked as he flipped one of the patties. "And how about bacon? We have some mighty fine bacon here!"

Another opened a jar of pickles for me and guided me to where the plates and forks were, and yet another poured me a glass of lemonade. By the time I got to the end of the food line, I felt part best friend, part honored guest. And you know what? It felt good! I had expected to help myself, grab a quick bite to eat, and then go off to my assigned task of taking photos of kids in the church flower garden against the backdrop of a series of giant cutout figures. Instead, I found myself being ushered to a seat in the shade with a plate full of food, with a host of young men I'd never met before asking if there was anything else I needed.

A few minutes later, a young woman in her 20s who I did not recognize sat down next to me with her two young children. She told me she lived a block away from the church and introduced her children. I took photos of both of them in the flower garden - and then a family portrait of the three of them - and invited her to stop by the church later that week to pick them up. Much to the delight of her kids, Ken blew soap bubbles for them and showed the little boy how to do it himself.

As we left later that evening, the little girl was dancing to the music of the BeeGees in the church parking lot; the little boy was alternately blowing soap bubbles and munching on a giant brownie.

Perhaps we'll never see the young men from Woodland Hills again, and maybe the young woman who lives down the block from the church will never come back, but something special happened that night, something I can't quite put my finger on. It felt downright - neighborly.

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