In his amazing poem “Mending Wall,” Robert Frost wrote “Good fences make good neighbors.” The whole poem is about how the narrator and his neighbor walk along the length of their adjoining properties, fixing the wall between them as they go along. The narrator wonders why the wall is necessary and even sees his neighbor as “an old-stone savage armed” as the neighbor brings new rocks to support the wall. It is a delightful poem and captures all the nuances of that most odd and sometimes difficult of relationships – being neighbors.
We don’t get to choose neighbors the way we do friends or spouses. They are more or less inherited when we move in or when they move in, sort of like siblings and cousins from Poughkeepsie that you are happy never come down to the city. Still, being a good neighbor or being neighborly all connote a pleasant and rather collegial existence. This calls to mind the great movie Good Neighbor Sam starring Jack Lemmon who plays Sam, a neighbor who goes above and beyond expectations to help out the person next door with hilarious results.
I am thinking about this now as my neighbor Carl has all the boxes out on the front lawn and the moving truck in front of his house. I don’t recall how many years Carl has been here, but I do remember his son being in Kindergarten (I believe) when they moved in, and I think Jack just finished 8th grade now, so the years have gone by for sure.
Early this morning we spoke briefly, and Carl revealed that he has been reading my stuff and plans to continue doing so. I was sort of surprised that he even knew I wrote anything, and then I felt great joy in that he would even have interest in my work. After we said goodbye and I went inside, I felt motivated to write about Carl and his time spent as my neighbor.
Carl has certainly been a good neighbor in many ways. He has always been friendly, outgoing, willing to assist with his snowplow during a blizzard or helping to put up a tent for the annual block party. Carl is a very social person and has friends times ten, which is wonderful because people are drawn to his gregarious personality. His wife and he had many parties, but never anything that ever caused a disturbance. They are well liked and will be greatly missed.
I admire Carl very much for his outgoing personality and also because he was a member of the local volunteer fire department. You have to give credit to a person who works all day and then spends evenings running to the fire house for emergency calls. I give my donation every year to what I know is a good cause, but Carl went above and beyond by getting on those trucks and doing a job most people cannot or will not do.
His wife used to organize the annual block party, and with them leaving there will be no block party this year. My daughter wants us to get involved, but my wife and I are just too busy with everything. In fact, we say that all the time. Carl and his wife worked too but seemed to find the time for these things. Again, that is a credit to them and this year the block will be very quiet and lonely especially during the last weekend in July when the party used to take place.
As it is in life we always wish we had done things differently. I do wish I had been able to make more time to get to know Carl better, but that is nothing I can change. I have been busy and he was busy in his way. I blame myself for not extending an offer to do something or to just hang out, have a beer, and talk, but such is the nature of modern life.
We do indeed have a fence between our properties, and Carl’s kids would lose balls on our side often enough. They were always respectful of the fence, as was their dog Molly (a black Lab). Molly used to bark when they let her outside and reminded me of my old Lab who died earlier this year. I used to always reach over that fence and pet Molly, who greeted me like I was her long lost master. I am going to miss that dog.
I also want to say that Carl taught me something about being a good father – one of the best lessons I could ever learn. Carl was a huge Yankees fan when I first met him. He bled pinstripes like I did Mets orange and blue. We would have genial talks about the teams and, of course, his team was a good deal more successful than mine. When his son got older and became a Mets fan, Carl did what I think is the most amazing thing ever – he became a Mets fan for his son. I was so impressed by this and (though I have never told him in person) I admire that so much. Carl is not just a good man but a great father and person because his love is obviously unconditional to give up the team for Jack.
To be honest, I must say that I am not certain that I can live up to that with my son. If he should grow up and start loving the Yankees, I don’t think I could be as big a guy as Carl and drop the Mets. I think I would be devastated personally, and Carl didn’t let that happen. He just turned around and started wearing a Mets cap and supported his son. I am hoping my boy will love the Mets, but if he doesn’t, I am going to try to follow Carl’s lead but it will be difficult.
The last of the boxes is getting put on the truck as I look out the window. Soon it will rumble down the block and the family car will follow it with Molly sticking her head out the window. They are off to a new life elsewhere, and we will continue to live ours here and wait to see who will move in. I doubt the new tenants will ever be such good neighbors, so after Carl is gone I will frequently walk the fence along the property line and make sure all is secure. As Frost wrote, “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall” and I understand it more than ever on this day.
So, goodbye, good neighbor Carl. You will be missed. Thanks most of all for the lesson you taught me about being a good father. Now excuse me while I go put a Mets cap on my son’s head and hope for the best.
Photo Credit: newyorktimes.com