If I had to choose sides regarding neighbors and fences, I’d side with the narrator in Robert Frost’s poem “Mending Wall.” While he and his neighbor go about their annual ritual repairing together the stone wall between their properties, the narrator questions the need for a wall at all, to which his neighbor replies, “Good fences make good neighbors.”
To me a good neighbor is worth a whole lot more than a good fence. Providence must have known I’d be needing them, for pretty much all my life I’ve had good ones.
Our next-door neighbors were the ones we could always count on when I was growing up. Originally from Tennessee, Jesse and Bill Cherry provided a sweet twang that washed over me like a cool dip on a hot day. As a kid, Bill’s claim to fame for me was his habit of bursting out his back door flailing his arms at the birds pecking on the cherry tree in their backyard. When I grew up Jesse threw a wedding shower for me and invited all the neighbors. Her homemade spread even included tea sandwiches, crusts trimmed. The Cherrys’ house was filled with antiques and I still have the side table they passed on to me when I got married.
After our wedding Jim and I rented a small house with a large garden in a small town in Ohio. Wayne had one flashing traffic light in the middle of town. In the five years we lived there, it never flashed. Bud and Princess were our landlords and lived next door with their two shy, school-aged girls. Most of the folks in Wayne, unlike us, were farmers and ranchers. Bud and Princess made us feel accepted and went out of their way to provide us with the household sundries and tools most young newlyweds haven’t got. When we moved to Montana they took over care of our chickens and even sold our old Volkswagen Beetle for us (which we’d originally bought from them so we’d have a second car). We exchanged Christmas cards for many years afterward.
Our first week in Kalispell we lived at the Teepee Lodge on U.S. 2 (long gone) —rent paid weekly. An obviously temporary living situation, we had to use the one pay phone outside the office to call about rentals. Don and Janette had a home for rent next to their own on their 40 acres and they “adopted” us, not that they needed any more family since they had eight kids of their own. Their family had originally lived in the house we rented, until they built their bigger home. They gave us free rein to grow a garden alongside their sizable plot and frequently had us over for dinner. Janette brought over lots of homemade cookies and Don shared ample samples of his smoked fish. One severe blizzard, Janette, a Minnesota native, came over (in her snowmobile suit) to assure me, a young mother with a toddler, a newborn and a woodstove as our sole heat source, that she’d seen much worse and that storm was nothing to worry about. For eight years, they welcomed us like family, until we started our own and built our own home.
After we bought property in the West Valley, we sold half of it to a couple from New Jersey close to retiring, who also began building a house. Barbara would cross the field between our properties to babysit our kids after school — they adored her. Lou stays in touch years after moving away after Barbara passed.
Our kids played with the neighbor girls on our other side. Through the years, our families have always exchanged little Christmas gifts and cookies.
Our newest neighbors stop by from time to time, though we all have different work schedules. As often as not, visits either way are precipitated by a mis-delivered package or request for a helping hand, and are often accompanied by something from the kitchen.
And, in over 25 years in our home, we’ve never put up a fence.
Community Editor Carol Marino may be reached at 758-4440 or email@example.com.