“We Keep the Wall Between Us as We Go”

frostOne might concur that my husband had this as his laptop screensaver for a whole year due to his New England roots. On the contrary, my husband’s love for Robert Forest was not the only reason this poem resonated with him…

In 2010, my husband and I bought a circa 1940 house in a historic neighborhood. The house exuded character and charm, but needed a ton of updating. One of the outside eye-soars was an overgrown back yard with a rusted and broken chain link fence. Once the inside was livable, we moved to the outside to take care of this embarrassing fence. We considered simply putting our new wooden fence up without removing the old one, but then our neighbor would still have to look at the ugly thing. We wanted her to be able to enjoy the new wood fence as well.

So my husband went to work, painstakingly digging up the metal posts that were cemented into the ground. Once the entire fence was removed and hauled away, we began to carefully plot where the new fence would go. Paying attention to where the old fence had been and referring to our property survey, we determined that the new fence could actually be placed so that we would gain six more inches of yard space. Sounds silly I know, but we didn’t want to miss out on what was rightfully ours. My husband carefully dug holes for the posts, and measured everything six times to ensure that our new fence was level and stable (set again in concrete). It took the help of the entire family to put up the fence, and once it was done we were proud. Overall, the project had taken four full weekends of work. We had saved money by doing it ourselves, and it looked great!

The next week we received a letter in the mail from our neighbor. She had contacted a lawyer and was accusing us of putting our new fence on her property. We were devastated and confused. Why hadn’t she said anything when my husband was taking the old fence down? She had even come out into her backyard as we worked. After many letters back and forth, we were not only forced to take down our new fence, but replace her old chain link one. Not with a new chain link fence mind you, but a “recycled” one. Apparently she liked the rusted look. In the end, we hired someone to put our wooden fence back up where the original fence stood.

An excerpt from Mending Wall by Robert Frost:

Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence…
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, ‘Good fences make good neighbors.’

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