What a week. You won’t be interested in this post if you have lovely neighbours, or if you live in an apartment that doesn’t include a yard. If on the other hand you know what it is to lose quack grass wars and have miserable people next door, it may resonate.
The yard and house have never been in better shape. And my parents, 77 and 83, must be exhausted. “No, not at all,” they tell me, “we didn’t work hard at all.”
They triumphed over the salt- and sand-filled garage, a broken doorframe, dandelions and quack grass, holes under the deck and porch, rabbits, moldy windowsills, wrinkly shirts, and thick stubborn sod. Now the bushes are in the ground, the flowers are blooming, the windows are sparkling, the wind chimes are musical, the birdhouse is perched at the edge of the yard, the front door stays closed. And they’re not tired.
The visit culminated on the next-to-last day, when I finally had the opportunity to ask my neighbour why he’s always so cranky. Before I tell you exactly how this opportunity to ask The Question I’d long been dying to ask presented itself, I have to explain why I’d been dying to ask it. It isn’t, after all, something you go around asking people you live next door to and are trying to get along with.
He truly is cranky. All the time. He doesn’t appear to have a friendly bone in his body. He looks the other direction when we’re walking or driving up, so he won’t have to say hello. And we do happen to come face-to-face accidentally and sneak in a “hi”, he’ll nod, but never smile. Never.
For years now, our only conversations have been hostile. He, or his wife, will ring the doorbell only to scold us (loudly), about the ball that bounced into their yard, or about our parking. A five-car family a few years ago, we did occasionally spill over our drive and stick out the tiniest bit in front of their property, though always and only just near their property, never on it. The street, after all, is public.
This week though, my 83-year-old father was digging a hole for some bushes my mother was eager to help me plant near the property line between us, along which runs a low brick wall. Mr. Cranky approached me and gruffly demanded we take down the low brick wall between our properties.
“Why?” I ask, truly innocently, to which he barks, “they’re on my property.” I look hard to see how this might be. Perhaps an inch or so. I tell him the ground has been settling and shifting (it has; we have a number of home and walkway cracks to show for it), and that maybe it has moved in an inch since we installed it, but suggest that it isn’t really a problem.
“A good neighbour stays on his property,” he half-mutters, half-barks.
“You really need that inch I ask?” before heading inside to make lunch.
In my absence, my father tries to fix the wall, but Mr. Cranky, according to my mother’s report, was clearly not pleased and continued to complain and treat my father with an abundance of disrespect, which finally culminated in his actually kicking some of the freshly-repaired wall over.
I know, he’s unhappy. I’ve never in 11 years seen friends show up at their home to visit. An inch of property becomes a big deal. Still, I’m angry that he’s treated my father this way, which is how I justify my asking him why he’s always so cranky.
The front looks lovely again. Somewhere around Day Five, after all the sod for the raspberry patch had been dug up, and the holes for the bushes dug, and the bushes and flowers planted, the window washing started. Window washing involved screen removal, which lead to a few (minor) injuries, the discovery of a damaged open/close mechanism on one of them, a search for the right repair tools, and a load of laundry done with unchecked pockets and tissues nicely shredded on everything.
At lunch, my father reminds me that some politicians lie about everything. They do. Except I disagree and say it’s not just some of them; they all do. We agree on everything and nothing, my father and me. We both want a better world. We both think we know who is responsible for the trouble, and how to fix things. I know he wishes very much I saw things his way. But love is enormous, bigger than difference.
And I owe them, big time.