Most of us have seen the TV show, Home Improvement…and Tim-the-Tool-Man Taylor’s neighbor. Eyes peering over the fence, Tim Taylor brings his muddled problems to the obscured confidant. The image shows a friendly exchange with the-guy-next-door, but it also reveals something else.
In my black-and-white memories is a house – the house of my childhood – and the White Picket Fence. Brightly colored flowers laced that fence and…ah, the memories…running after butterflies from one bloom to another while running from the black and yellow bumble-bees. The fading images of Mom chatting over that very fence with her next-door-neighbor friend. Or me, as a toddler, helping Dad wash the car beside that pleasant boundary. Fences from those days remind me of happy times and security. The Fence was protection but also served as an invitation.
Before long we moved to a different neighborhood. Our yard became the gathering place for all the kids – my mom was the proverbial Kool-Aid Mom.
Adjoining our house was an empty lot which gave ample space to play those outdoor games – running through the sprinklers, hunting for garter snakes, making our famous mud pies. Baseball was the sport in those days and the lot provided that place for baseballs to fly while bicycles raced up and down 92nd Ave. There were no sidewalks on our street, so the rocky road blended with the neighboring lawns. And as would happen too often, our bikes and toys would find their way to Mrs. Landis’ side yard….and oops! Bouncing over her fence would go a ball or two. In moments, Mrs. Landis would come out scolding the culprit to stay out of her yard and keep to our own side of the street. Every ‘hood had a neighbor like Mrs. Landis.
On one occasion I found myself on Mrs. Landis’ doorstep – most likely requesting access to retrieve a toy from her yard. Being young and naive, yet full of youthful curiosity and friendliness, I asked where Mr. Landis was. She told me he died. My child mind somehow tried to grasp her sadness. I asked her if he died of a headache. I remember her saying, “something-like-that”….
I liked Mrs. Landis after that.
A fence is a freestanding structure designed to restrict or prevent movement across a boundary.
In another black-and-white memory I recall seeing a gate between properties – an invitation to the adjoining neighbor to come visit any time. This got me searching for any history showing this – I wondered if people still built these friendly gates between properties. You know, the “Yoo Hoo!” as Mrs. So-and-So made her way through the gate to visit and borrow a cup of sugar…or eggs…or whatever. What I found was a surprising amount of columns and columns of complaints. Legal questions on the placement, structure, and property rights of homeowners.
To build a Good Neighbor fence indicated some kind of barrier. This is mine, and that is yours.
We don’t see those friendly four-foot, open gates anymore because we just aren’t neighbors anymore. I know from experience not everyone likes you to just drop by. It’s the make-an-appointment-next-month mentality. The long-time familiarity and trust between neighbors has faded probably because we move so many times. Rarely do we find people living in the same neighborhood for more than a few years. Therefore, fences have grown taller and more dense. Homes adjoining our current property desire their privacy, so trees, shrubs….and fences… have become today’s “Good Neighbor” fence hovering at five-feet or taller….giving Tim Taylor’s friendly neighbor image reality.
We once had a wood fence dividing our property with the home behind us. We could easily visit with the widowed woman on the other side as it stood just about four feet. We enjoyed exchanging berries and chit chat. Over time the wood fence rotted and required replacing with a chain-link fence – opening the “gate” to both yards. We now have new neighbors who spend many summer evenings in their backyard. Strange how that makes us feel somewhat vulnerable. We see each other so easily, and… guess what?
We greet each other with a “Howdy, Neighbor!”
I think I’ll take over some raspberries.
Have you a Good Neighbor fence?