Good fences and driveways

It’s been a long time since I thought of sitting down to write.  Oh there have been moments when cohesion almost seemed possible and yet there was always something lacking so that it felt like there wasn’t a whole post in the story, but something more like a blip.  I could make a single post out of many blips and describe my summer thus, but recently a whole post fell into my lap so the time for sharing is once more upon me.

When I was a child it was not an uncommon sight for me to walk outside to either the front or back yard and see my folks conversing over the fence with our neighbors.  Not only the neighbors adjacent to us, but any neighbors ambling by would stop at times and my mother or father or both would walk to the fence and they’d stand around talking… For God only knows how long.  This used to amaze me as a child and I think that’s because I saw nothing special about what was happening.  It was not something precious that this group of people would stop what they had been doing, would gather by the fence and sit there conversing, standing for fully 15 minutes to over an hour at times.  Sometimes Mom and Dad would even invite the neighbors inside for coffee or tea and a chit-chat.  I saw nothing unusual or out of the common way here and so it was that the years passed, I grew up, Dad died, and we moved away from that little neighborhood.

It would be 15 years later (almost to the month) before I would find myself once again in a scenario where the neighbors would hold off working and stand around chatting with that same open manner.  Oh, don’t get me wrong!  I’ve lived in houses for the last 15 years, but we never knew our neighbors.  No one came to introduce themselves and save for the man directly next to us, we didn’t even know their names.  We didn’t even know Luther’s surname which is why I feel safe using his given name here.  It never even occurred to me to one day ask him, “So what is your last name?”

Since Bart and I have moved I learned that our neighbors are really quite lovely people, but it’s something they do frequently that makes me happiest of all and that is that they’ll drop off working on something and start chatting with one or the other of us.  Though when I was a child I saw nothing special in this now as an adult I understand that the chatting friendliness of our neighbors growing up was something I took utterly for granted.  That tired expression oft quoted of Frost, “Good fences make good neighbors” popped into my head ever as soon as we began discussing with our neighbors the idea of fencing.  They asked what we had in mind and I said “Something closed.”  Our neighbor said, “But I don’t want it entirely closed.”  Dubious I decided to listen to what he proposed.  The result is that part of the fence is only a grate open to both sides where climbing vines can find purchase.  Yes, we can see into one another’s yards.  Why that should feel strange to a child who grew up with open steel fencing around her is beyond me.  Stranger still why was I anxious to have the world of our home closed off from our neighbors?

Frost never believed in the words he wrote.  In fact, the entire poem carries an air of melancholy surrounding the neighbor oft repeating himself, “Good fences make good neighbors.”  Frost is doubtful and it’s the first line of the poem that runs through my heart now, “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall…” rather than that last.  So the fence between our two properties is up and it reminds me now that privacy can also fence out hearts as well as wall in lives.

Yet last night we stood together, the four of us, and chatted in the driveway over what the new paving scheme would look like for the driveway we’ll lay tomorrow together.  The sun went down gently the way it tends to do in these Northern latitudes rather than descending so swiftly into the pitch of night, and as the lights came up we stood there whiling away the minutes over this and that, building projects, what each of us is interested in, and though we met to discuss the driveway what encompassed the conversation was much more about our lives.   I began to hope that here were people who would eventually become what I’d known growing up: both neighbors and friends.  As I meditated on this last evening— turning down lights and putting away things prior to going to sleep— it was a different poem of Frost’s that sprang to my mind.

When I was 17 I was given the present of a cassette tape (no, there were no CD players in cars at this time, or at least not in mine!) which was a collection of Robert Frost poems being read.  I used to listen to that tape whenever I needed to feel calm in the traffic.  I think Frost would find it strange and yet I felt the entire environment alter listening to that tape and what was a frantic ride could become something more peaceful.  On it (among many others) was the poem A Time to Talk.

When a friend calls to me from the road

And slows his horse to a meaning walk,

I don’t stand still and look around

On all the hills I haven’t hoed,

And shout from where I am, “What is it?”

No, not as there is a time to talk.

I thrust my hoe in the mellow ground,

Blade-end up and five feet tall,

And plod: I go up to the stone wall

For a friendly visit.

What we do in life is sometimes to our own detriment.  For years I would speak to only those I was closest to and for what purpose?  I have one more little part of this tale to relate and then I’ll leave off writing for today.  On the day of our wedding I was getting AJ showered and dressed when I heard the doorbell ring.  I ran downstairs and there was our neighbor with an enormous bouquet in his hands.  The Dutch are often very good flower givers, but I confess I was moved to the point of tears that Stefan had heard that morning from Bart that it was our wedding day and rushed out to a florist and bought a bouquet for us.   I don’t know whether it was the sweetness, the unexpectedness or the simplicity of such a gesture that moved me most; belike, it was some combination thereof.  I know, however, that it was also the knowledge that here in my new home was something of an old home which I had not had and missed dearly for many years without being aware of its passing until it returned quite softly to my life: good neighbors not held at bay by good fences.

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~ by Rebecca Erickson on August 23, 2013.

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