NATICK – Cari and Lauri Ryding always felt welcome on Strawberry Hill Road. Then they came home from vacation and discovered the rainbow flag they had hung after the Orlando massacre had been stolen and their front porch pelted with eggs.
"It really sent us reeling," Cari said.
But what happened next reminded the couple why they loved the neighborhood in the first place. On Sunday, a squadron of children on bicycles delivered rainbow flags to house after house.
And one by one, the flags went up, transforming a swath of suburbia – more than 40 houses in all — into a brilliantly colored declaration of pride and solidarity, displayed on picket fences, garages, doorways, and decks.
"It just happened so quickly — the whole neighborhood said, 'Get me a flag. Get me a flag. Get me a flag,' " said Penni Rochwerger, who lives around the corner from the Rydings. "If we can stop whatever hate is out there, I think that's really important."
Lauri Ryding said that after cleaning the eggs off her porch, she walked through the streets around her home, overwhelmed by all the neighbors prominently flying the rainbow colors.
"One person's act of fear and maliciousness created such a powerful statement of love," she said. "We are very blessed, very fortunate."
Cari Ryding, 49, first moved to Strawberry Hill Road 23 years ago, and, she said, she immediately fell in love with the family-friendly feel of the place.
"I loved the diversity of the generations, and how there's a commitment to that — of all ages, and all shapes, and sizes, and preferences," she said. "I've been feeling this energy in the neighborhood for years."
That feeling was reinforced, she said, after she separated from her husband 10 years ago, and her neighbors helped her adjust to life as a single parent, bringing her dinners if she was sick or watching two of her children if she had to take the third to the doctor.
And the bond deepened even further, she said, when neighbors who had met her husband welcomed her wife, Lauri, 52.
"When I moved in four and a half years ago, I was embraced," Lauri said. "Our relationship was embraced."
So both women were stunned when they came home Wednesday to discover the vandalism.
"It was our first experience in Natick of having any type of prejudice," Cari said. "We hadn't experienced it all, and it kind of broke open our little cocoon."
They alerted Natick police, and asked neighbors on Facebook if anyone knew what happened. No one did and still there are no suspects. But many were outraged.
One neighbor suggested asking for a stack of flags from the Rainbow Peace Flag Project, a local organization that gives away the flags free to Natick-area residents.
The Rydings had ordered their flag from the group about a month ago, to honor the 49 victims killed in June at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando.
Immediately, requests flooded in, along with donations to the group.
"We said, 'Why don't we all have the flags? They can't take them from all of us,'" said Dennis Gaughan, whose wife, Maura, helped organize the rainbow response.
Lois McGillivray, 85, who has lived on Strawberry Hill Road for 50 years, had one of the rainbow flags proudly displayed on her home on Monday.
"I have never met anyone who would do what that person did to that house," she said. "This is a place where nobody bothers anybody, no matter how you want to live, as long as you're not digging up the garden and throwing the dirt in my yard."
Neil Podolski said he wanted to fly a rainbow flag, as well, after hearing that the Rydings' home had been vandalized.
"It's just not right," said Podolski, who is Jewish. "Who's to say tomorrow we don't find a swastika on our house?"
Cari Ryding said that she had started thinking twice about her neighborhood after her home was targeted, "and what they did completely overshadowed that fear and we are just overwhelmed with the kindness and generosity."
As jarring as the initial crime was, Lauri Ryding said, the response has helped restore their faith in their community.
"Somebody's fear called them to action," she said. "But our neighbors' support and love called them to action, and love conquers hate. Love wins. We win."