In his poem Mending Wall, Robert Frost coined the phrase “Good fences make good neighbors”. And it’s a phrase that I’m sure we’ve all considered at one time or another. Frost’s speaker in the poem doesn’t seem to completely understand the phrase, or agree with his neighbor about the sentiment, but he does go along with the yearly ritual of mending the fences in springtime along with his neighbor to keep them in good repair.
Now here in my little part of Fayette County, I’m not sure if my neighbors and I need some fences or if it’s already too late. Is there anything that we need to keep separate or do we already know each others’ quirks and unique behaviors well enough that a little extra privacy no longer matters? Since we’ve seen it all – or at least enough of all of it – do we need fences to keep the few remaining secrets in?
For example, there’s the neighbor who only smokes after his wife has left the house, standing outside on the walkway to their front door taking puffs with a satisfied look on his face. He throws the cigarette butts out into the bushes where he believes his wife will never see them and collects them all up on Saturday when he mows the lawn.
Then there’s the guy down the street who cruises up and down the lane in his golf cart with a proud grin on his face each day, while his grandchildren zip back and forth in that same golf cart, usually on the wrong side of the road, whenever he’s taking a nap or loses track of the keys.
And, if there was a fence in the way, I’d miss out on most of the long, loud run my 20-year-old neighbor takes on his Yamaha motorcycle, certain that we want to see his bravery and coolness(?) each day as he revs the engine up loud and dashes up the street, certain that no traffic will be coming the other direction as he crests the hill. Not today anyway.
And then of course there’s me… I wouldn’t consider myself to be completely boring and uninteresting to the outside viewer either. For example, last week I was sick. As in pneumonia and coughing-up-a-lung kind of sick. And of course I’m too stubborn to let that get in the way of anything that I would regularly do. So, in the evenings when it was time to take the cat out for a walk (something abnormal enough in its own way I’m sure), this time I wore a mask to keep me from breathing the cool air into my lungs.
So as sunset passed us by here in our neighborhood, and Graham felt more inclined to wander in larger loops around the house and into neighboring – non-fenced in – yards, it wasn’t all that unusual to see me wandering in the dark, mask covering my face and the flashlight app on my phone illuminating the bushes under windows looking for the cat. And, somehow, none of my neighbors either called the police on me or confronted me with a gun in their hand.
I believe that means that my absurdity has been understood and tolerated throughout the neighborhood. That they’ve been able to see my eccentricities without the challenge of a wall in the way and have decided to accept them. And I’m one of them. Well, either that or we need a better quality neighborhood watch program.