There is a bright yellow picnic table on a Fort Garry boulevard.
Sometimes when the bright yellow picnic table sits unoccupied with a bouquet of flowers as a centrepiece, it serves as decorative art, and sometimes it serves as the centrepiece for a lively gathering of neighbours and friends who happen to chance by.
Its owners, Sharon and Stacy, initially planted the front yard picnic table in its current location primarily to watch their young children play in the green space across the street. Soon, a few parents joined them to watch their kids play or some just stopped to visit when they picked up or dropped off kids.
"Stacy and the kids made this table for me for Mother’s Day," Sharon said. "It’s very special that way just because there is a history to it."
When Sharon and Stacy’s children were school-age, the children came home from school to play road hockey. The sound of hockey sticks scraping and the net being dragged onto the street seemed to be curiously audible in all the houses along the block because soon kids emerged from all ends, equipped with sticks and gear for a lively pick-up game of road hockey in front of Sharon and Stacy’s house, of course because that is where the yellow picnic table was.
Sharon and Stacy sat at the table, and when they boomed out the warning ‘Car!’ players scurried to the curb and parents on the sidelines warned drivers to slow down. When there wasn’t a road hockey game, the yellow picnic table invited impromptu neighbourhood gatherings with popcorn and drinks or a place for schoolchildren to gather on their way home.
Sharon thinks that in the winter their neighbourhood isn’t that different than other neighbourhoods where people park in attached garages and hibernate until spring comes, but in the summer something as simple as a picnic table in the front yard becomes a focal point and an invitation to be a community. She observes: "It is one of the best things to build community spirit." A green space and picnic table are open invitations for people to gather, get to know each other, and catch up.
A couple of weeks ago it started with Sharon thanking her neighbour for mowing their little strip of boulevard and soon more people came. Throughout the evening 14 or 15 neighbours came by because the table is out front, it’s visible, and it creates a place for people to connect.
Helen Lepp Friesen is a community correspondent for Fort Garry. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org