In his poem Mending Wall, the American poet Robert Frost said, “Good fences make good neighbours.” He might perhaps have been the inspiration for an American president who fancies a wall, but that president doesn’t read. But I’m digressing.
Growing up in country Victoria, our neighbours were mostly all lovely people. We lived in a cul-de-sac, and kept an eye out for each other, reported sightings of snakes slithering out of the nearby river, shared the harvest from gardens, swapped newspapers, and got to know each other’s families.
My mother still lives there, and she’s very giving to her neighbours, and they to her. Most impressively though, the respect for each other’s space and time is a hallmark of that neighbourly friendship. Because space is important for our souls and our head space.
When I grew up and moved out of home (it took two attempts, as these things go), I didn’t much try to get to know the various neighbours around each house I lived in. I was too busy, needed my own space too much, too ‘meh’, or too pissed off at their doof-doof.
There were exceptions of course, but if I’m honest, those neighbourly connections came about because the other party made the initial effort. I’m glad they did, but I rarely took that first step to connect, myself.
Circumstances gave me a nudge, admittedly, as my neighbours on one side own the home I currently live in. That necessitated a minimum cordiality, but I’m glad it did.
My landlords are an elderly retired couple and the house I live in was their family home for twenty years, before they built a new place on the adjacent block thirty years ago. They raised their own children in this place, and now I’ve made it a home for me and my own kids.
Mary and John are lovely people, and they’re sweet to my kids. They know it’s just me, and that I’m not exactly flush with cash, so they regularly have a treat for the kids when they’re here with me, and it’s a beautiful thing.
They are generous to me too, and often have some tasty little biscuits for me to have with my coffee. This past week they given me loads of vegetables from their impressive back garden: a giant zucchini, fresh beans, half a dozen juicy and so-damn-delicious tomatoes.
The day I was writing this, they called me to the fence to hand me a parcel of foil, with warm pumpkin and zucchini fritters for my lunch. My heart and taste buds melted simultaneously.
Mary and John are helping me realise I can give more of myself to others, too, and be a better friend and neighbour. To that end, now and then my kids and I make a chocolate cake and drop it in to them for their afternoon tea.
I don’t have much time for small talk ordinarily, but a chat with them about whatever’s making news that day is time well spent, even when the conversation might again be about how our street isn’t as quiet or neighbourly as it once was, as most people could say of their own neighbourhoods, I’m sure.
But for us, in our two houses and our little patch of inner-west suburbia, friendliness and generosity are alive and well. While I love my own space and solitude, I’m grateful for the neighbourly friendship and care from these kind people.
Our fence separates the properties, but it doesn’t separate us.
Originally published in The Westsider.