“Good fences make good neighbors.” That quote from the Robert Frost poem “Mending Wall” is often used to express the way people use fences to create a barrier between them and their neighbors. I’ve found, however, that sometimes fences can bring neighbors together.
When we moved into our house there was a short, rusty, chain link fence between our yard and our neighbors’s yard. It kept kids to one side and dogs to the other, but it wasn’t much of a barrier. We could completely see each other’s yards. Conversations, beers, food, tools, and toys could easily pass over the fence.
When we cut away the overgrown garden that the previous owner of our home had left we discovered a small gate at the back of the fence providing access between our properties without having to go all the way around to the front or back gates. A previous occupant on one side or the other long ago chained and padlocked the gate.
Our neighbor cut that very rusty chain, and we were able to easily move between our two yards.
But that chain link fence was ugly.
It wasn’t surprising when our neighbor said he wanted to replace that old fence with a wooden one. I was happy to be rid of the ugly fence too, but I was also a little sad. I imagined a tall wooden privacy fence that would limit our day-to-day interactions to the tops of heads like Wilson on Home Improvement.
Luckily, that wasn’t what our neighbors had in mind.
The new fence is a wooden picket fence, but it is only about 4 feet high. We still talk and pass things over it. It even includes another small gate so that we can continue to go back and forth between the yards.
There is another special feature. The fence was built so that that the panels could be easily removed. Our neighbors had a very specific plan for that capability.
When the marriage equality law passed in Washington my neighbors got engaged. Although Illinois still didn’t have marriage equality at the time plans emerged to have the wedding in the backyard in June 2014 during their annual Midsommarfest barbeque. Since the event would be a bit bigger than their usual event they asked me and my husband as well as the neighbors on the other side of the yard if they could take down the fences and extend the wedding into our adjacent yards.
My husband and I did not hesitate to say yes.
Then, with a new fence built and wedding plans well underway, marriage equality passed in Illinois. Gay marriage would become legal less than a week before my neighbors’s wedding. This added to the excitement.
This weekend the fences came down. Around 150 neighbors, friends, and family gathered together to celebrate the wedding of a couple who have already spent 17 years together. I was honored to be a part of it.
Many people at the wedding told me I was great neighbor for opening my yard. The truth is that the use of our yard was a small thanks for all the kindness and generosity my neighbors have shown our family in the three and a half years we have lived here.
When we were planning to buy a house we looked at size, price, and location. As for neighbors we were just lucky. Extremely lucky.
Our neighbors are not just the people next door. They are friends. Knowing them not only enriches the lives of me and my husband. Knowing them means that my children can learn by example that community is family, love is love, and sometimes, if you are really lucky, good neighbors make good fences.
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