Columnist: “Good fences make good neighbors”?

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 28, 2016

A couple of weeks ago, we closed the gate.

You would need to know a few personal details to understand how emotional that was.

Robert Frost, the acclaimed New England poet, wrote that “good fences make good neighbors.” This prompted the question, which the poet alluded to, are you keeping someone in or keeping someone out?

When a real-estate entrepreneur bought the property next door and began renting to students, the furor in the neighborhood ran deep. We bore the brunt of the unsightliness, the late partying after hours and three cars for every occupant. Boy, girl every room, you know — it soon adds up.

A fence kept them out, but not the noise, unsightliness and the gnawing intimidation that our street had become a rental nook. Fortunately, the sale of the property to a good friend got rid of the rental problem. Amen!

In due time, we would be keeping out someone important to us. Our daughter and her husband bought the house next door, and we commissioned a carpenter to cut a gate for familial access. The gate was especially comforting when Sophie came along and later her sister, Penny.

When they grew big enough to walk and gained some measure of independence, we would hear a knock on the back door. More of a light tapping, yielding the sweetest sound. When we opened the back door there in all their innocence and humility were two little girls who have enriched our lives.

The knock on the door was often to spend time with their grandmother, whom they adore. Sometimes they needed a Popsicle. Sometimes they needed juice. Sometimes a cookie. Sometimes to use the stapler. Stapling paper until there are more staples than sheet of paper can hold is a childhood delight.

They hardly knew a babysitter except their grandmother, whose patience is remarkable, allowing them free reign of the house. Meme was their waitress, their maid and their confidante.

Meme always cleaned up after them without sigh or complaint. Early on, when the knock on the door was audible and I would open the door, they seemed disappointed that it was not you know who.

“Where’s Meme,” they asked anxiously?

They came to all our parties, sheepishly shying away from the attention, which caused a retreat to the den where they watched a movie to hold their attention.

The most amazing thing is that while they have their moments as all siblings do, they never really had any abiding conflicts. They are best friends which made eavesdropping on their sensitive conversations something of a special memory to cherish.

Now that our extended family has moved away, the house will no longer be a wreck. There won’t be any toys to trip over. Clothes no longer will be strewn hither and yon. The television will only be tuned to network programming. Sixty minutes and CBS football won’t be pre-empted any more.

There will be orange juice in the refrigerator in the morning. Blueberries will no longer be squashed on the kitchen floor. Doors will no longer slam when the chase is on. The remote control will be visible, not stuffed out of sight in the bowels of the sofa.

Tea parties will no longer block the entrance to the den when there is need to spend time at the computer. There won’t be dolls in every chair in which they cannot be disturbed. Cookie crumbs will no longer enhance an ant invasion.

Now we will miss all that just as we will miss the love and laughter, their keen interest in books and the unending creative projects accommodated by the stapler, computer paper, Scotch tape and scissors.

That space in the fence has always been soothing and comforting. For the better part of eight years, we have seen two smiling faces race through and make our day.

We like our new neighbors, but respect their privacy. Gratefully, we recall our memories. We have seen robins and cardinals, blue jays and squirrels cavorting about our fence. They will remain, which we appreciate, but they don’t smile and hug us. They won’t jump in our arms when we open the back door. They won’t tell us they love us.

In case you didn’t know, it takes a lot of tears to close a gate.

Loran Smith

Syndicated columnist

Loran Smith is an athletic administrator at the University of Georgia.