Friday, March 20, 2020

SOL20 Slice #20: The neighbor

I am participating in the
 Slice of Life Story Challenge (SOL20).  
All participants are sharing stories about moments in their lives, writing 
 every day for the month of March 2020.
Thank you, Two Writing Teachers!

We only saw him when the lawn needed to be mowed. He seemed to wait until the last possible minute, working doubly hard, sweating and grunting, as he pushed the mower through the too high grass. Soon after he moved in, perhaps the very first time he mowed his lawn, my husband said hello and introduced himself; we learned his name was George and that he was a network engineer. He was our new backyard neighbor. 

We didn't learn much more; he wasn't very chatty. We decided he lived alone. Certainly, no one else in his home ever ventured out back. Landscaping tasks were totally ignored, and, over time, we watched the dwarf blue spruce and other ornamental treasures become totally encased in weedy vines. Unlike the previous owner, he was not a gardener, he was not an outdoors guy.

Every now and again, I'd be in my front yard, weeding, at the end of the day, and I would see him drive by in his blue BMW, making his way around the block, so that he could approach his house from the adjacent side of the street and pull right into his driveway. He was particular like that. I always waved hello.

The years went by.

In time, we realized that the yard was so overgrown that there was no longer any grass to mow. We hadn't seen George in a long time. His yard was a forest of common morning glory, oriental bittersweet, English ivy, "mile a minute vine," porcelain berry, and, we feared, poison ivy vines. We could no longer even see the dwarf blue spruce. Many of the vines grew thick like ropes, reaching high into the sugar maple tree that divided our two yards. The vines grew every which way and all about, climbing onto our shed and fence, encroaching into our yard. We kept trimming everything right at the property line, stopping the vines' progress. A family of deer took refuge in his yard, munching on the vines and the berries, and often jumped over the fence and into our yard. They must have been sleeping under all the brambles in the long forgotten yard, perfectly hidden and camouflaged. 

This was too much. 
This was neglect. 
We needed to talk to George. 

We walked around the block, to his house, only to find a foreclosure sign.

There was no George in the backyard house anymore.

This week, the new owner began cleaning up the backyard. My husband went over to say hello, and learned that he is going to rent the house out. He buys houses and rents them. He hopes to rent to a family. He hired three young, teenage boys who attacked that yard with energy, pulling and cutting and raking the debris. Their approach was akin to throwing all your living room clutter into the front hall closet when company comes - they never dug for any roots, they simply grabbed and tossed, not even wearing any gardening gloves. After three days of hard work, the yard is visibly transformed. There are no vines hanging down from trees. The dwarf blue spruce is much taller than we remembered, and beautiful, a centerpiece to the yard. There's no place for deer to hide. 

We were superficial neighbors.

When you know more about the weeds than you do about the inhabitants, something's wrong.
When you know all about the plants and the deer and the property line, but not about your neighbor, something's wrong.

We have to do better this time. We have to be better neighbors.


  1. It is hard to be good neighbors sometimes. I had the best neighbor, Norma. She moved to a senior community and I don't even know the new people at all. I tried to go over and introduce myself a couple of times, but we were never able to connect. Now they've been here for months and it feels awkward to try. I liked reading about George.

    1. It's just so interesting to think about you can live so close and yet know so little. It is hard to be good neighbors sometimes! Thank you for this.

  2. WOW, Maureen, this is an amazing piece of writing both for its substance and its content. I thought about Faulkner’s plan imagery as I read the detailed description of the yard’s overgrowth. We have a neighbor whose trees encroach into our property, pushing up the back fence. Ken has talked to them about the problem, but they claim the trees are ours. We know they’re not because we know the survey lines. Some of my neighbors I know from having taught their children, but in a place where neighborhoods are organized based on the dominant religion those not part of that religion don’t get as well acquainted. I’ve been thinking about writing a letter to all my neighbors and hand delivering it. I feel a need to be more available to my neighbors.

    1. I'm so glad to hear this resonate with you! "I feel a need to be more available to my neighbors." That's precisely the nagging feeling I am having. These times demand it...we should know each other. We are so interconnected. Thank you!!

  3. What a beautiful observation essay. There is no place for the deer to hide...Your words gently paint our busy lives as the lack of time has us all closing in more around ourselves.