A mystery neighbor left us a letter in our mailbox today.
When I first opened the box and saw it there, a piece of notebook paper scribbled in pen, folded on top of our mail, I thought, Uh oh.
A couple of months after we first moved in, one of our neighbors (who has since moved away) ambled over, stood in our yard, put his hands on his hips and sighed. He surveyed the lines of weeds rising out of our mulch beds like little green soldiers and said, “The guy before you kept everything so sharp and neat. I used to love looking at your yard as I walked by.”
“That must have been nice,” I said and grinned at him, hoping a smile might help. Then I shrugged my shoulders. “Maybe we have other gifts,” I laughed. He grumble-chuckled and moved along.
So five years later, had my neighbors had enough? Had they been meeting together in secret in the bamboo grove at the bottom of the hill, planning their yard intervention?
What exactly was the problem? Was it the garden hose sprawled out all over our front yard? I’d tried to get Sam to roll that up after he washed his car, but he’s been busy getting ready to go back to school, and it’s been so hot that I’ve felt no guilt walking right past it on the way to the air conditioning. Was it Rosie’s barking, defending her territory from the dozens of people who walk or jog down our street everyday or the occasional cardboard box left by my neighbor’s trashcan that just might storm across the street and attack her family? Or was it that we never hung ferns from the fern hanger post in our front yard, which, according to our frustrated neighbor, was always adorned with the fern-iest ferns of the fern world before we came along?
I’m afraid that whatever the problem, it was largely my fault. I have not done a lot to befriend my neighbors. I LOVE people, I really do. They’re all God’s children and I LOVE THEM SO MUCH. But being an introvert, when it comes to my neighborhood, my very own Hobbit Hole, I love God’s kids best from twenty feet away, as we wave to each other and shout hello’s and how are you’s from across the street.
There are exceptions to this rule, I will say. I still miss my dear friend Bette, our next door neighbor from our old house in Greer. I miss her and Dale and their girls and grandkids and their dog Sparky and all the laughs and tears we shared as my kids were growing up. And if you’ve read French By Heart or The Holy Eclair, you know how much I loved cantankerous Madame Mallet, in spite of herself, even though SHE DROVE ME CRAZY with all her spying on us through her lace curtains and advice giving and her take charge attitude about my cherry tree and my barefooted sauvage children.
When it comes down to it, my husband, however, is the friendly guy who plants eight times more muscadine grapes than we need by the road so that the whole neighborhood can help themselves. He’s the one who stops walkers in the street and becomes their best friends, while I watch from the kitchen window, shaking my fist at them as they let their dogs pee in our yard WITHOUT THE SLIGHTEST BIT OF SHAME! (Okay, I admit that I let Rosie pee in the grass on my walks, but not in anybody’s front yard!) Don’t these people know that dog pee kills the weeds which cover our dirt and kind of look like green grass from a distance?!
It’s not hate mail!
It’s a love letter!
Somebody loves our grapes!
When Todd planted the grapes, I admit, I wasn’t particularly encouraging. Not everybody enjoys muscadines. Pop one in your mouth, bite through the tough hull, and out squirts a grape eyeball onto your tongue. I’ve grown to love the sweet peppery-ness of the juice, but it’s an acquired taste. I wondered aloud if our neighbors would be interested in grapes that require so much spitting, both the hulls and the seeds. But Todd is used to my ways and happily ignored me and planted them anyway. And when they started getting ripe, my middle man-child who lives with us liked the idea of sharing the grapes so much that he even made a sign (despite his own introversion.)
So maybe it’s time for me to turn over a new grape leaf.
Maybe it’s time that I join with the guys in my family in embracing the idea of inviting people into my yard. We’re so divided in this country these days. Maybe muscadines in all their peppery sweet eyeball-ness can bring us together, at least on my street, for the next few weeks. We can eat and spit in unison for as long as the grapes last.
While we’re at it, maybe I could even become the Miss Bette or the Madame Mallet (minus the lace curtain) for the families around us. I think I have the energy to do that, as long as my house/ Hobbit Hole/Palace of Introversion is there for me to retreat to when my energy runs out.
It’ll be fun! Barefoot kids are just my style!
(Just send the doggies down to pee in the bamboo grove down the hill, pretty please!)