Let’s have summer of block parties

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 23, 2011

Quick, who was Michael McClendon?

Jared Loughner?

Sounds familiar, but …?

McClendon was the Geneva County man who went on a shooting rampage in March of 2009, taking 11 lives, including his own.

Loughner is the Arizona man accused in the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 18 others, six of whom died.

It was that Jan. 8, 2011, event that got a group of people talking. How could you stop something like that from happening? What if it happened in our town?

It was then that they remembered the Geneva County tragedy. It hadn’t happened in our town, but it did happen in our back yard.

A small group started holding meetings, brainstorming what positive things they might be able to do. This week, they enlarged their meeting and served homemade soups to a luncheon crowd of about 30 stakeholders with possible interests in addressing the burning question, “What could we do?”

Andalusia Police Chief Wilbur Williams was among those who spoke. Chief tells a great story about his days as a member of the Mobile Police Department.

Such was the case when the department received calls from a woman complaining about Martians landing near her apartment. His officers hated responding to the call because they couldn’t convince her that there were no Martians there.

Finally, one of the men had a bright idea. He got an appliance box and wrapped it in aluminum foil. When the woman called, they told her they’d be right out to set a trap for the Martians.

It worked. For days, weeks even, the problem of reasoning with the woman was over. And then, Chief said, there was the phone call issuing a summons to city hall to do some ‘xplaining. The woman had called them, this time to complain that no one had been by to empty the trap.

Chief’s point was that you have to be creative when dealing with people.

Diane Baugher, executive director of South Central Alabama Mental Health, pointed out that for that woman and many like her, the issue of the “Martians” was very real. By paying attention to those around us, and getting to know others in our neighborhoods and communities better, we might become alert to issues before they cause Geneva- or Arizona-style problems.

I arrived at the meeting just in time to hear my husband, who’d been in on the planning, ‘fess up that he doesn’t really know our neighbors. A number of people in the room nodded. They, too, were in the same boat.

“It’s not that I’m too busy, it’s that I’ve been too lazy,” he said. Casting an almost-sheepish glance my way, he then announced, “So I’m going to throw a block party, OK, Honey?”

Sounds like a grand idea to me. Perhaps we should make it Andalusia’s summer of block parties and all do better jobs of being neighborly.

After all, we are Southerners. We just need to be as good a job of being hospitable to each other as we are to outsiders.