Saturday, March 8, 2014

Good Fences Make Good Neighbors

My Mom and Dad,  out in front of  Dad's parents'
row house, some Easter before I was born (maybe c. 1963)
My mother grew up in the country, where folks, from time immemorial, have marked their borders with fencing. You can wander out deep in the North Carolina woods and still see remnants of property lines long since abandoned and absorbed by the forest.  A post here, a couple strands of wire fencing there -- out in the middle of nowhere. I remember hearing stories about how the century-old country home that had passed down in my Mom's family was once crisscrossed by picket fences, some of them wild with climbing roses. Unfortunately, all the wooden fencing was gone by the time I arrived on the scene, and the whole property made easily accessible by my grandfather's riding mower, but there were still the remnants of the original barbed wire property lines out in the woods. 

 My Dad grew up in Baltimore, Maryland.  His parent's home of many years was a row house in the middle of the city (pictured above), and though the front stoops and broad front porches were accessible to one another for an afternoon chat with the neighbors, the back yards were all pointedly blocked off from one another and carefully separated
from the alleyway behind. If you ran down the alley behind the long, long blocks of row houses, you passed yard after yard after yard of narrow little oases, protected on all sides by fences, most with neat little patches of lawns, barbecue grills and lattice strap lawn chairs.

Big brother, Steve, and me, c.1967
 When we were little kids (make that the late '60s and '70s or so), my brothers and sisters and I were bound in by fences.  We were military, so moved around a bit -- but most of our homes had fencing of some kind  around the yard -- and the bases we lived on were bordered all around by fencing and gates.  We were double fenced!  

As Dan and I have raised our family, country or city, we've always felt secure with the safety of fences around us.  If the property didn't have any, we dug deep into our pockets and came up with the money somehow to build them.  Animals needed corralling -- and so did children.  It was also just a good practice to know where our neighbor's land ended and ours began.  A carefully sighted fence, properly placed along the property line has always truly made for good relations with our neighbors. Everyone's happier knowing their boundaries.

Our first five children, at the "farm" in
Eastern Colorado in the '90s.
So it is with life, in general, too  We have very basic boundaries, well known in the Western world, regarding morality, very clearly delineated in the ten Commandments. Even a non Christian has to talk pretty slippery to justify stepping over these boundaries; they're hard-wired into our consciences by God. Rock walls.  Not that folks don't scale them, and even knock them down in this crazy world...  but we all know they're still there.  Whether some folks like it or not.

But there are other  boundaries around our behavior, besides those obvious ten.  Maybe not rock walls...  Perhaps more like shrubbery borders, or t-posts and barbed wire. They arise from those first ten rules usually, somehow or another, or they come from just plain ole common sense. They can change with the time and the place sometimes, and often that's a good thing!  But, there are some rules that should be universal and eternal. Some rules -- you might call them "conventions" -- of human behavior  should always be respected as "property lines."   They protect us from danger, keep us from wandering where we don't belong, and allow for a sense of security, respect, and charity among us.  

Here are a few of the unwritten rules my husband and I thought of :

* Never touch the belly of a pregnant woman unless invited to do so.  If this isn't trespassing, I don't know what is!

*  Follow the traffic rules and regulations of the city, state, country in which you're traveling. This is a matter of actual civic law, but a lot of people think the speed limit, for instance, is just a suggestion. Never assume you know more about the safety of a road than the people who designed the rules for it -- even if it's right around the corner from your house.  People die because of this kind of carelessness and arrogance.

* If you're stuck in traffic and the shoulder is open, just sit tight and be patient.  In the opinion of some, the lower rungs of Hades are reserved for those who cut in line in traffic.

*  Just because you're a "hugger"  doesn't mean everyone is.  If you don't know someone well, don't presume to hug them.

*  In the same way, don't assume that just because someone is your neighbor, s/he wants to be your best friend.  Be kind and respectful toward one another from day one, then if a friendship develops, great.  If not, don't push it.

*  Show deference for those less capable than you. If you're young (say, under 60) and healthy, always give up your seat on a crowded bus, public event, or in church to somebody who isn't. (Men, women, boys, girls -- doesn't matter)

* Men, hold doors open for ladies.  And ladies, thank the men who open doors for you -- it's a sign of respect for you that a gentleman remembers this kindness.  Courtesy is part safety gate, part bridge.

 Men, always put the toilet seat down, even in a public restroom. In a house full of boys and girls, this really is a safety issue...  (The girls here will hunt down boys who don't put the seat down.  Be warned if you come visit us.)

*  Always assume the best about your fellow man, regardless of where s/he may have fallen in life.  Treat panhandlers with respect and compassion and, if you can, a tangible handout like a bottled water or fruit on a hot day or a McDonald's gift certificate.  (Best not to give money, though, that only exacerbates the overall panhandling problem.)

*  Learn to hold your tongue and defer judgment on people -- generally and specifically. If you're upset with somebody you know, take time to reflect on that person's temperament, history and personal context and try to understand the problem from their point of view.  Then, unless you're opinion is requested, keep it to yourself. Pray for them.  That's usually the best thing you can do, anyway.

* Never get involved in a land war in Asia. (Had to throw that one in there.)

*  If something on your property affects someone else's property, consult with your neighbor about dealing with it.  We had a neighbor many years ago with a meticulous lawn who hated, loathed, despised our beautiful crab apple trees.  We half expected to wake up to the sound of a chainsaw in the dead of night, and dear old Mr. H. giggling maniacally as he hacked them down.  But, we made a solemn promise to him, to keep those darned crab apples off his lawn -- which we did, and he was appeased. He watched very closely (practically looked for them in the roots of the lawn with a magnifying glass), but he was appeased. He didn't cut down the trees, anyway.

We know there are lots more!  This is just the tip of the iceberg.  What can you think of that we missed?

Sepia Saturday, March 8, 2014

To join in on the Sepia Saturday fun, click on the link under the picture!  Lots of wonderful vintage images and fascinating snippets of history to enjoy!


Lisa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
La Nightingail said...

Many of your husband's unwritten rules are just plain old good common sense! I especially like rule #8. :))

Jo Featherston said...

When driving from NY to Niagara Falls and beyond a few years ago, we were surprised by the apparent lack of fences between homes in the many county towns we passed through, and wondered how how people kept control of their children and dogs - perhaps they just kept them inside? I think a few of the rules come down to just allowing people personal space.

Brett Payne said...

As a country boy, fences to me have always been to keep livestock, rather than neighbours, at bay.

Joan said...

As a country gal, fences had to do with livestock, keeping them in, or keeping them out. But once the population gets more dense, the less sense in what we are fencing in or out. Just my observation and querkiness.

Lisa said...

Brett and Joan -- I agree! A good part of our fencing has been to keep in hens, goats, cows, and horses. But it was also to keep children and small pets away from busy streets! And also to deter unwanted intruders for the safety and security of the animals and children, too. City or country! I was hoping, though, to make the point that boundaries are important for everyone, literally in this way -- and figuratively! I wish I could say we never had neighbors we wanted to keep at bay, one way or another! Y'all have been blessed if you haven't!

Jackie van Bergen said...

Me too - country girl - fences to keep livestock in and kangaroos and emus out! and rabbits and foxes and wombats…

Wendy said...

Brilliant connection of literal and symbolic fences.