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Bostonians of the Year

The Natick neighbors: Their outpouring of love erased an act of hate

After a lesbian couple’s home was targeted by vandals, the whole street rallied in support.

October 21, 2016 | Natick, MA Cari Ryding (center, pink) and Lauri Ryding (green) sit pose for a picture with neighbors of Strawberry Hill Rd. who supported the Ryding's when their house was egged by handing out rainbow flags in throughout their community. Here, they attend a concert to support the cause. Kieran Kesner for The Boston Globe.
Kieran Kesner/Globe file
Left: Cari and Lauri Ryding (seated, Cari in pink, Lauri in green) with some of their neighbors after a community concert in October.

When Cari Ryding and her wife, Lauri, returned from vacation in August, they noticed the rainbow flag missing from their sweet yellow house. They couldn’t believe it at first. Maybe a strong wind had blown it away?

Then they saw the mess: Their house had been egged, too. There was no escaping the ugly truth. Oh, crap, Cari remembers thinking. Someone around here has a problem. It was jarring, not just because it looked like an act of hate at a time when gay rights have long ceased to be a matter of dispute. But because it happened here, in this enclave of tidy homes east of downtown Natick.

“It’s this old-fashioned, Mister Rogers, Frank Capra neighborhood, the kind where everybody wants to live,” Lauri says. People love one another on Strawberry Hill Road. They step in when someone is sick, or stuck at work, or minus a partner, or in need of home repairs. Meals are delivered, kids picked up, lawns mowed, advice dispensed. They call each other “framily.”

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So of course their neighbors were going to do something after news of the vandalism spread — which took all of 20 seconds after Cari posted on Facebook. When they told a local police officer — who, naturally, lives on the street — what had happened, his wife asked if they could get a rainbow flag to hang on their house. On Facebook, people asked for them, too.

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If Lauri and Cari needed a new flag, well, they all needed one. Cari picked up a bunch from the Rainbow Peace Flag Project, a local organization that started giving flags away after the mass shooting at Pulse, a gay-friendly Orlando nightclub, in June. Maura Gaughan, who lives three doors down from the Rydings, coordinated deliveries with other neighbors. “There were kids on bikes, walking and biking the flags around,” Cari says, “and we were cleaning egg off our house and neighbors were crying, ‘We can’t believe it happened here,’ and we were being consoled. It was an out-of-body experience.”

Natick, MA--8/22/2016--Married couple Lauri and Cari Ryding (cq) pose with their replacement flag, on Monday, August 22, 2016. They returned home to Natick from vacation and discovered their rainbow flag stolen and their house egged. After learning of the incident, many neighbors showed their support by flying the pride flag themselves. Photo by Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff Topic: 23natick Reporter: Michael Levenson
Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff
The Rydings at their house, with its new rainbow flag.

Up went the flags, on flagpoles and front doors, on porches and fences, 61 of them, along Strawberry Hill Road and all over the neighborhood. Mess with one of us, the flags say, and you mess with all. “For us, it was just normal that we would do this, that we would rally behind them,” says Liz Mazzola, who distributed flags with her kids.

After local media picked up on their story, national outlets followed, and it rocketed across the globe on social media, sped by desperate hunger for a story of love in a political season filled with hate. The Rydings heard from people in Belgium, Australia, France, Spain, Portugal, and Brazil. “We feel we have so little control, but as neighbors, you do have control,” Cari says. “Small acts of kindness can have this ripple effect.”

If you live in a neighborhood that’s been strong for generations, it’s easy to forget just how remarkable community can be. Lauri, Cari, and their neighbors never took it for granted exactly. But whoever targeted the Rydings gave the people of Strawberry Hill Road — and the rest of us — a great and enduring reminder of the power of compassion.

Yvonne Abraham is a Globe columnist. Send comments to magazine@globe.com.