Who are your neighbors? Are you friends with them, barely say hi, or avoid them altogether? Tell us a story — real or invented — about the people on the other side of your wall (or street, or farm, or… you get the point).

For 28 years we’ve lived next door to the same people, and we’re the “Hi, how are you?” kind of neighbors, and so are they. We stop and chat now and them, but haven’t been invited to their house for dinner or vice versa. It was interesting several years ago to see them featured on a news segment on TV because the father had retired from the State Department, except it was the CIA, and they were talking about how he had been able to keep that secret from his family for so many years, and how they felt about it. Fine, as it turns out — they had a pretty good idea about what he was really doing during they many assignments abroad.

On the other side of us we’ve had neighbors who have changed four or five times, and they invariably have dogs; dogs who venture into our yard, leave their stuff and go home. One of the house’s occupants told us that we should build a fence to keep them out if we were having a problem with their dogs. And indeed we did, but not because of their suggestion — we are plagued with deer who seem to love the same things we do in our garden.

Across the street we have the weird house. The third set of owners is there now, but whomever lives in the house tends to be reclusive. They’re not unfriendly, but they keep to themselves. In this case, I wouldn’t know the wife if I saw her on the street, even though they’ve been there about 4 years. What I find amazing is that when the second family bought it about 10 years ago they were totally unaware that half the house had burned nearly to the ground and was, of course, reconstructed. You would’ve thought that fact would have been disclosed to them at settlement.

It was interesting, though, that when the house burned perhaps 15 years ago, the whole cul-de-sac that we live on, and more people in the neighborhood, came together to offer whatever assistance the family needed. The poor wife sat inside our front door and watched as the firefighters subdued the flames, while her husband stayed on the scene. In the days following the fire, they spent hours and days trying to salvage whatever they could from the wet, charred mess.  One neighbor happened to have a house empty that he usually rents out, so the family moved there. Others, like me, cooked dinners for them for a while — everything they had in the kitchen was gone. I also washed load upon load of their clothes that survived trying to get the smoky smell out of them (as did others), and I can say that is not an easy to remove.

I feel fortunate that we have no neighbors whom we try to avoid. Most of them are good, decent, people whom I feel we could go to in an emergency even if we don’t sit down to dinner with them. It’s amazing though — recently I met a woman who was walking past the house when I was out at the mailbox, and it was the first time I’d seen her. I asked her if she was new to the neighborhood and was somewhat embarrassed to learn that she’s lived here longer than we have and it’s a pretty small neighborhood.

I love Robert Frost’s poem about a rugged rock wall between his land and his neighbor’s. After a long winter, they come out to work congenially on it:

“… on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go…”

While working, the neighbor opines that “good fences make good friends”. Then Robert wonders:

“‘Why do they make good neighbors?’ …
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.”

I feel like that. My home is my castle, and while moats are out of style, I like the fence that my husband has restored and repaired over the years. It is a boundary both physical and psychological.

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