When a Neighbor's Fence Goes Down

It's been said that fences make great neighbors.

An view of a neighbor's yard with part of a fence down

I agree and disagree with this. Fences make great neighbors only because they keep them and their stuff in their space and me and my stuff in my space.

But, if you're like most neighbors in California, I have met my neighbors once, and rarely speak to them. It isn't because I don't want to, but because we're all too busy to say hello.  Or something like that.

I think it has something to do with the fence situation. The part that's supposed to make me a great neighbor doesn't actually live up to the hype. 

A few weeks ago, after a wild, windy, and rainy storm, a portion of our back fence fell down. It was an overdue scenario for sure. We'd been propping that part of our fence up with two-by-fours for years. It was over forty years old, and the posts rotted out beyond their use. It was time.

My husband and I walked around to confront our neighbor the following morning, a neighbor we had never met despite the 11 years we've lived here. I remember thinking how pathetic that was of us. Why hadn't we tried to meet them when we first moved in? 

Being busy is a lousy excuse.

The lady who lived at the house opened her door wide with a smile. She said her name was Helen. She lived alone in her home. She ushered us in, moving like lighting to the kitchen. Good morning, America was blaring from the television, her overhead kitchen table light was something like 300 watts and glaring like the sun.

"Let me just get the information you need," she said after we told her about the fence. The one nice thing about a shared fence is the shared cost. Neither of us wanted to pay for it, but if it had to be done, a 50% discount is a welcome gesture from the world of home-owning.

Helen hadn't even noticed the fence was down, bless her heart. She told us she was 90 years old. I didn't believe it. She didn't look a day over 70, but there she was, moving like a young lady and apologizing for her television being too loud. 

She said she was on the Good Morning, America show recently and showed us a picture of her smiling wide with one of the hosts. Helen was proud of herself. I can see why she had the show on as loud as she did while doing the crosswords and drinking coffee. And we had totally interrupted her morning routine.

I liked Helen. 

How could I live yards away from this lady and never known her until now? The only thing I knew about Helen was her laugh. For years, she would have friends over, sit outside on the patio, and probably have a nice drink alongside them, and we would hear them talk. 

Her laugh filtered over her apple and nectarine trees and into our yard over our orange and lime trees. It always made me smile; it was a heartfelt laugh; loud, not obnoxious, but endearing and attractive. Her laugh made me want to laugh.

I glanced into her kitchen. She was using mugs that she'd probably owned for over 40 years, too. How would I know this? Because they are the exact same mugs - mugs I have sold in my Etsy shop - that I collect and sell and love. Helen was my kind of neighbor.

She gave us her contact info, and we talked about the weather and other normal things that good neighbors talk about. We walked past her living room on the way back out. There, some of the most beautiful mid-century modern furniture sat, looking like the pages of an issue of Architectural Digest. My husband and I looked at each other. The furniture was stunning.

Who was this Helen?

We said our goodbyes and I told her if she needed anything to "walk through the fence and ask. We'd be right there." She laughed and said she would. As we walked home, we talked about her. She was someone we all could aspire to be: kind, youthful, classic, and owned a great laugh.

The fence is still down but will be repaired next week. When we wake up in the morning, we can see straight through to her kitchen from our kitchen. "Oh look, Helen is up," we say to each other. At dinner, when the four of us, my husband and I and two boys, are all home (which can be a rarity these days), we see her light on in the kitchen and say, "Hey, Helen. Have a great dinner."

My youngest son said he wished we didn't have to have fences. He loves the way our yard looks with the fence down with different lighting coming through; with a new friend just a short walk away. 

I agree with him. It looks better and feels better. It's the way it's supposed to be. Neighbors should depend on each other and I don't feel as isolated with the fence down.

Hopefully, as she looks into our yard and kitchen, she doesn't feel alone either.

Though replacing a fence is never fun, meeting Helen has been the highlight of the whole ordeal. I'll miss seeing her light on from our kitchen; I'll miss saying hello to her in the morning. The good news is I can walk over and talk to her if I want to now. In person. What a novel, neighborly concept.

Fences make great neighbors. But in our case, and probably in the case of everyone in America, a fence down makes even better neighbors.


  1. Helen sounds like a gem! And I'm glad you finally met each other. (One of our neighbors is a hoarder so having a fence is a godsend.)

  2. Gem is the best word for her! She is incredible. And I understand about fences helping to keep the riff-raff out though. ♥ Thanks for your comment, Karen! Appreciate it.

  3. Great story. Well written....

    1. Thank you so much! Best compliment I can receive. Appreciate it greatly.


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