On Wednesday afternoon, my oldest son asked me to come outside. He was not asking me to a game of Horse or 1-on-1. Instead, he was showing me that he had sheared the passenger side mirror off of the truck that he uses to commute to school. As it is a power mirror, it was hanging by the cabling. Instead of pulling the whole door apart that afternoon, we duct-taped it with a little support beneath it in an effort that would prove mostly futile to stabilize it until we could get another mirror ordered and then only pull the whole door apart once (and hopefully put it back together again).
As I was putting the duct tape away, I noticed someone coming across the private drive that separates us from our nearest neighbor, D—. D— and her husbandlived there when we moved in, and I’ve talked to them on a couple of occasions, and I’ve even been in their house a time or two to help trouble shoot computer issues or help move a refrigerator. But because our 80s era homes have garages that face each other and because we have a football field between our homes, most of our interactions have been waves or shouting “Hi,” across the private drive if we’re going out to get the mail at the same time.
The husband passed away some years ago, and D— has been in declining health recently. One of her children basically moved in with her, and I saw him more than her over the last stretch of time. So when I saw someone coming, I thought it was bad news about D—.
Let me back up a bit. When we first moved here, the house at the end of the private drive a quarter mile away was owned by the Whitakers who not only bought the property with the house, but also bought several acres from the previous owners of Nogglestead and built a twenty horse barn (in addition to the 8 horse barn on their property) as they wanted to run a boarding stable. When their dreams fell apart, the banks foreclosed on both parcels. The house has been bought and sold three times, once by the Jones family whom we got to know a little better because the wife was a dental tech at our dentist before they moved out of the area to a real ranch. The next people were only there for a year or so, and I never met them. And I’ve only spoken to the parents of the Russian family that now live there once, and they’ve been there about a year now.
The large barn, though, that was another matter. I went to the auction on the courthouse steps when the barn and its acreage were foreclosed upon–only to discover that the other bidder is likely to be the bank that holds the note, and they start the bidding at the amount of the mortgage. Which is why it was not my twenty horse barn for almost a decade now.
As that parcel and barn originally belonged to the owners of the house at the end of the private drive, its access was through the private drive, and it was landlocked as the easement on the private drive ended before the beginning of the property. And my neighbors across the lane were not eager to allow a business to buy that property, so they refused to offer easements to it for any number of businesses.
Until one man and, I presumed, his wife wanted to make it into a dog ninja warrior training facility. So they bought the property and sued for access to it. To bolster their case, they built a little “house” on it for their residence and said they weren’t going to use it for a business–just parties (or so I heard. Well, once they got access to it, they moved out of their little shed and bought a small house about a mile down the road. Then, when the house opposite our neighbor across the private drive went up for sale, they bought that house and moved into it to be closer to their barn.
I only talked with him once, I think, when he asked about Internet availability (we’re at the end of what was possible with cable, so he’d probably have to go with satellite) and once with his presumed wife when she came to the door to ask if we’d seen anything when someone stole a trailer from that property (we hadn’t). Other than that, it was waving across vast pastures when mowing the lawn or waving at cars when they were coming or going down the private drive to the barn.
Which is why I did not recognize the woman crossing the grass on Wednesday afternoon. I thought it was one of D—‘s daughters, as numerous cars have been parked on the grass over there for the last few days (not likely good news, as I mentioned). This woman said they were having an auction in a week and that there would be lots of cars, so that was what was going on. She handed me a poster for the auction, and when she got halfway across the grass, I asked, “Does this mean you’re leaving?” And only when she got to her car did the full realization hit me. “C—- died” I told my son.
I did a little research, and I found the online guestbook/obituary. He died in December, and I hadn’t noticed. I’d seen increased activity back there in the past few weeks, but that has been typical as they prepared for “dog parties” in the spring and summer. But I guess this year, she was getting ready for the auction.
I kind of feel a little bad that I didn’t notice, and that I didn’t get to know him better. David Burton, whose book A History of the Rural Schools in Greene County, Missouri I read in 2010, has been writing columns on how to be a good neighbor for years, recognizing in the modern world how easy it is to not get to know your neighbors. The modern world combines with my suspicious nature so that I keep neighbors at a distance. Since I’ve been an adult, I’ve really only gotten to know one of my neighbors in five different locations.
Which is not to say we have not tried. We brought Christmas cookies to neighboring houses the first couple of years we lived here, and that never really spurred a lot of communication. I did end up with the phone number of the family of the dental tech at one point, so we had a couple of interactions.
But I’m not a good neighbor. Not a bad neighbor. Just a guy you might wave to and will never miss when you don’t.