Thursday, August 6, 2009

Good Fences

I would never just walk into someone's house. Even if I'd known them for years. I do not take an open or unlocked door as an invitation to enter without permission. But that's not the case for many – especially in Oklahoma. To counter this, I keep my doors locked – all the time. I'd lock the gates to my backyard if I could, but with no alley, meter readers etc, need access.

My house sits on a long narrow lot, surrounded by smaller square lots. Which means instead of one house on my left, one to my right, and one behind me – I have two on my right, two on my left, and one way, way out back. In other words - I'm surrounded by lots of people.

To counter the feeling that anytime I step outside someone is watching, I've planted shrubs and trees and other thick foliage along the four foot chain-link fence that borders my backyard. You'd think this would be enough to ensure my privacy. But it seems like whenever I'm mowing, weeding, or doing anything outside, I have company. Kids who want to sell me candy or magazine subscriptions for their latest school fund raising project, strangers wanting to use the phone, strangers wanting me to pay them to mow my yard, strangers inviting me to their church, and neighbors just wanting to chat as I lug in my groceries.

I'm not a person who likes to chat. I don't want to know everyone's business. I'd probably be very happy living in the country with no neighbors playing loud music late on Sunday nights (what reasonable person parties on Sunday nights anyway?); no neighbors using power equipment outside at 8 am on Saturdays; and no neighbors having abusive midnight conversations with their soon to be ex-spouses as they make their way from slamming front door to slamming car door (note: if you're leaving forever, for heaven's sake just do it and shut up about it.)

My day job requires me to talk to all kinds of people all day long. Sometimes I spend most of the day on the telephone dealing with problems. I've done this for more than 25 years. I only have so much goodwill to give each day. When I come home, I want to do the Greta Garbo thing – I want to be alone.

I treasure my privacy. I want to come home, roll up the drawbridge, and keep the world out. To achieve this, I try not to engage my neighbors in idle conversation. I wave from a distance and hope they do the same. Usually it works, but not always. I had one senior citizen neighbor who insisted on getting my mail out of my mailbox and holding it for me when I was travelling. Sometimes he did it when I was just late getting home from work for the day. This necessitated me checking with him whenever I returned to see if he had any of my mail. I finally got a locking mailbox and that solved one problem.

Now the neighbor to the right of me has moved out. He was one of my favorite neighbors. In twenty years, we'd only had three or four conversations: once when he broke my bathroom window with a rock from his riding lawn mover; once when he cut a tree down and it landed on my fence; once when I found a dying kitten in my backyard (since he had cats, I thought it was one of his. It wasn't but he took it anyway) and once when he let me know he was moving. Even with the accidents, he was my idea of a good neighbor.

New people are in the process of moving in. If I was a better person, I'd bake some cookies and take them over, but I wouldn't want them to get the wrong idea. Best to start the way I want to go on.

I'll smile and wave at them as I fill my moat and feed the alligators. Hopefully, they'll get the message.

Robert Frost had it right. Good fences make good neighbors.

Any neighbor stories you want to share?

Evelyn David


  1. If I got started on neighbor stories, I'd be writing all day! Let's just say that I'm trying to learn how to be more patient, live and let live, and not expect everyone to want the same things that I want (like, pretty landscaping, flowers in the ground that aren't made of plastic, and no humongous dirt piles growing weeds in my backyard). 'Nuff said! ;-)


  2. I grew up in a neighborhood where everyone was like family. There were several houses where it was SOP for me to knock and just walk right in. And those families approached our house with the same level of familiarity. And having just gotten back from a visit with my parents (and some of those neighbors), I find I really miss that atmosphere.

    My father had a medical emergency while I was there this time (fortunately it all turned out fine). Our next-door neighbor wasn't home, but as always his door was unlocked. My husband took the kids over there so they wouldn't have to be around when the ambulance arrived. Meanwhile other neighbors poured out of their houses, offering to help, to take in kids, etc...

    That kind of outgoing community can be hard on the privacy, like you're talking about, but all in all I find it comforting!

    But if you don't like it, just spread a rumor that you're unbalanced and that you killed the previous owner of your neighbor's house. That will insure that they don't want to bond with you too much. And maybe that reputation will spread, and the others will leave you alone as well!

    Good luck getting your peace and quiet!

  3. This blog made me chuckle. Just goes to show how difference we all our Viva la difference!

    We live in the country. Anyone who comes to visit will come in a vehicle. But, the ones we know well will just walk in and start hollering, anyone here? If they don't I'd never know they were here. My office is near the back of the house and with the air-conditioning running, I can't hear a thing.

    I don't mind at all unless I'm really, really busy, but I also don't mind telling someone I'm busy.

    When my kids were growing up and we lived in a neighborhood, the neighborhood kids ran in and out. I didn't mind at all because my kids did it at their friends' houses too. The grown-ups knocked.

    My mom told me not to make friends with my neighbors, only to have friends who lived far enough away that they'd call before they came over. I didn't heed her advice.

    Tee hee. I like spreading the rumor that you're unbalanced.


  4. We share a driveway. I'll save you all of the angst this has caused over the years.

    The houses on my street are pretty close together but everyone leaves everyone else pretty much alone interfering when it's necessary (i.e. I saw your kid riding their bike at full speed down the hill with no helmet; or did you know your daughter drives and talks on her cell phone?). That kind of thing. But this here's the East Coast where everyone vants to be alone. Maggie

  5. I meant to say we are all different. I do think cultural difference abound in all areas of our lives.