A Gathering in the Hood, Meet New Neighbors and Greet the Old

by Kristina Wrenn

It used to be that everyone knew their neighbors. The pace of life was slower, and we spent more time outside our home catching up across the privet hedge or inviting each other over for cocktails or dinner. Happily, in Tyler that still happens and is celebrated. 

Around 2008, a group of neighbors including Laura and Ken Waits, Cathy and Hal Bertram, Kim Murley and Will Hickman, and Sharlotte and Tommy Hyde decided to do just that at the Hyde’s Home. The Hydes had recently been married and wanted to get to know their neighbors. The Hydes provided food and beverages. The group had no idea how many people to expect, but the house and backyard were filled with friendly people enjoying getting together.

What started as hand-delivering a few invitations to friends and asking them to invite their neighbors, has grown into a wonderful evening of fellowship spanning the Azalea District. Although the invite system is largely unchanged, it is still just neighbors inviting neighbors without a formal list. This informal system and its success is a testament to the connectors that these neighbors are and how that is part of Tyler’s history of Southern hospitality.

After putting off another event due to the pandemic and an influx of new neighbors in 2020 and 2021, the evening came together when originator, Tommy Hyde’s company prepared Laura and Michel Young’s landscaping for a summer party. He knew when he surveyed the grounds this was the perfect spot for the long-awaited “Gathering in the Hood.”

Tom Brown, Michael Young and Tommy Hyde met at Starbuck’s to plan the event and increase the reach to additional areas of the Azalea District. Twenty-four couples agreed to host the event and were all enthusiastically involved. Sharlotte Hyde coordinated it all via text and email, without the need to have meetings, as all involved are seasoned hosts and hostesses and the evening was meant to have a casual neighborhood vibe. 

Where, but Tyler, does the mayor help host an event with his neighbors and actually come to interact. And how wonderful that the hosts included two generations from one family with the Yarbrough and Jennings participation. Hosts spanned a large enough area to bring together a diverse cross-section of neighbors. Even as Tyler grows, people continue to focus on people. It’s not only refreshing, but the definition of neighborly.

Laura and Michael Young, consummate and experienced entertainers, set the tone for a warm and welcoming evening. There were group pictures taken of the hosts on the front lawn before guests arrived enabling those neighbors to catch-up with each other and meet their fellow hosts on the way to the backyard.

It was a beautiful October evening like we are treated to so often in Tyler and the perfect night to be outside with tiki torches and candles, no rain date needed (though a rain plan was in place). One hundred and twenty-eight guests (more than doubling the number of hosts) were able to graze on fruit and cheese and the perennial party favorites of queso, guacamole and chips while enjoying libations. 

Introductions and remarks by Tom Brown included how this all came together and what he hoped people would gain from knowing their neighbors. His philosophy is one of inclusion and the more the merrier. Not everyone’s lives intersect on a regular basis, nor do they always know each other. The evening was a great way to foster camaraderie and future get togethers.

The greeting of old and new friends occurred in the Young’s lushly landscaped backyard framed by wrought iron and ivy-covered walls, accented with manicured boxwoods. Their outdoor hardscaping truly was the ideal location to gather.

Peggy Smith, Cynthia Riter, and Laura Young thrilled the group by surprising everyone when C. Rojo’s Mobile Cuisine pulled into the driveway to serve their famous Wagyu burgers and delectable tacos for dinner. C. Rojo’s food is a “chamex” fusion of authentic Mexican cuisine with a little twist of Pacific islander. They specialize in rotisserie trompo al pastor, calamari, shrimp and Brussels sprouts tacos, and gourmet quesadillas. It was a meal to be remembered—prompting a few walks and runs around the neighborhood the next day to counteract the worthwhile indulgence.

As is synonymous with Tyler entertaining and a way to say thank you there was also a copious supply of Tom Brown Chocolate Chip Cookies on offer. The perfect end to any evening. 

The images show guests in rapt and present conversation. This was not a night for wallflowers; everyone interreacted with each other. Neighbors had such a good time that no one wanted to leave, but when they did it was as friends. Happily, that just means it could become an annual event that continues to bond Azalea District neighbors with invitations ebbing and flowing and a rotating list of hosts and gathering locations. The evening was expertly orchestrated through expanding on Tommy Hyde’s original vision and implementation. All involved look forward to how it will evolve in the future.

If you are a neighbor (in any neighborhood), it may be your turn to get the neighbors together for a celebration. There really are no rules, but this group has a framework that works. This “Gathering in the Hood” should make everyone want to live in the Azalea District and actively mix and mingle with your neighbors … or know who to turn to in the event you need a cup of sugar or an extra hand when in need!