This week’s club prompt led to a different kind of place. My neighbour here is the one who led me to this writing group, so when this prompt came up we decided to have a go at writing our stories “in tandem” if you will. So am posting my “side” first and then her perspective on the same events.
It started off with just one thing – a very small thing. I just wanted to trim the hedges. They looked totally wild as if they had never been trimmed. I was probably here over a month before I even realized the house was there. It was right next door but shrouded in very tall trees and hedges on 3 sides. No wonder I never noticed it….the 6-foot tall holly bushes are between our houses. On the day I met the occupant of the house next door, she came shouting over the fence on the front of our house. She’s a slight woman, with a head of grey hair, and a very mannerly way of speaking. She invites me over for a cup of tea when I’ve got some time.
One day, curious to realize that there is actually a house within feet of mine that I never even noticed and an occupant there I might like to know, I take her up on it. She puts on a kettle. Waiting for the water to boil, but I occupy myself looking around at all her paintings on the walls. It’s actually quite magnificent, this house. It’s entirely decorated with her own art – very impressive. Finally, the tea is done and we sit and chat for a while getting to know each other. I mention I want to trim down the prickly hedges in between her house and mine to a manageable level. She agrees but goes on about liking the trees in front to absorb some of the emissions from traffic and because they keep the light from the street lamps out of her windows at night.
Next day, I’m out there with the hedge trimmers. She comes out the back door and talks while I work. I don’t actually get very far till she leaves – she is quite the talker with 80 years of history to impart. She returns an hour later. I’ve cut the hedges with a slight grade toward the front of the houses to keep the light and emissions out of her personal space. Smiling, she comes over to admire the changes and again invites me in for a cup of tea. We sit, sip, and chat. She mentions then that she’s always wanted a “whimsical arch” in that hedgerow. I take on the challenge and back to the hedges we go. After a bit of work, we have the makings of a future whimsical arch in the hedges. Once it grows in next spring, it will be quite something I imagine. She seems quite pleased. Truth be told, I’m somewhat impressed with it myself!
A few weeks go by. I’ve been spending quite a bit of time over there absorbing her stories and history. One day, she wants to show me some pictures she received in her e-mail. I cannot believe the machine that I see when she takes me to her computer! It’s an Apple for sure, but I think it must be a relic from when Steve Jobs was first setting up shop in his garage! And OMG! It’s got a dial-up connection? I can’t believe this still exists! I can’t hold it back, though I’m trying very hard to be polite, “Mary,” I tell her, “A dial-up connection is just NOT the thing. It can be so much better for you. This just HAS to go!” She hems and she haws and she puts me off for weeks, but I do not give up. I continue to point out advantages here and there. I bring over literature. I keep floating the idea trying to get her comfortable with the notion. I engage her kids in the fight and find out that they’ve been on her quite a while to get moving on this, so I redouble my efforts. Finally, it happens. I don’t know what did it, but she utters the words, “Well, I suppose we should just do it!” I pick up the phone right away and make the call before she has a chance to back out! Am proud. It will be a total upgrade….house phone service, TVs, and internet all in one package. Her kids are falling over in their shock. She seems resigned to her fate – she knows she’s really in for it now.
The crossover from archaic to modern takes quite a few hours. But she’s actually quite bold while the technician is there. She is punching buttons and trying things out. I am surprised to see no fear and instead curiosity. This is not what I expected at all. It holds until the technician leaves and she gets back from the trip she had to leave for the day after all this change. That’s when she actually starts using the TV on her own. The next few days are refreshing her memory on all the new ways, fielding questions, or a tweak that we have to clear up. She’s doing just great! I’m very impressed. Wonder why she keeps running her hands through her hair like that? But, things level out and calm down a bit after a few weeks. She’s rolling her eyes much less and starting to get some comfort with the new ways of doing things.
One day, she makes an off-hand remark that her phone needs a new battery. I look at the VERY LARGE and obviously VERY OLD phone on the table and say to her that it might be cheaper to just buy a new phone. She seems agreeable to this and we decide to do that on our next trip out.
While we’re on the subject of phones, I broach the subject of a cell phone for the times when she’s out driving alone. She furrows her brow and seems to have a headache. It’s not a luxury I tell her; it’s a must – a safety concern. She hems and she haws, but again I persist. I e-mail her kids and employ every tactic I can and finally, one day we’re out shopping and I show her the phones. “It’s easy,” I tell her. She rolls her eyes and quietly sighs, “Okay.” We buy the cell phone and the cordless phone for the house and I set it all up. Next day, I give her a few instructions on each phone and we make some test calls. But now she’s confused calling the cell phone the cordless and not keeping things straight. Hmm. Probably need to slow down just a bit so she’s not overwhelmed.
Another day, while we visit over a cup of tea, she mentions that she wants to put shelves in her art studio to give it a neater appearance. She’s talking about hiring a carpenter. I gasp at the expense! Instead I think, “Ah! A new project,” and I jump right in! Why does she have that deer-in-the-headlights look? We talk about it, shop around a bit, and finally make a plan. She seems a little dazed at all the activity, but I enlist my husband and he spends a few hours one day installing the shelves for her. She also wants a wall of pegboard for empty frames. “No problem,” I say and we install that too. She watches us work and eyes up the growing mess on the floor. She comes in with a small broom and dustpan. She seems a bit weary. But she’s excited too and I know she’ll be happy with a neater setup in the end. What fun it is to have a new house to work on!
As I look around in the studio next day, I say, “You know, before we put it back together, this room needs painted!” As I’m having this thought, the phone rings. It’s one of her daughters that I’ve recently met. I manhandle the phone away from Mary and speak to the daughter with my new idea. The daughter agrees totally and volunteers to do the painting. Exciting! Now, we just need to clear the whole studio to allow for the painting. This is good….She’ll have a much cleaner looking studio with brand new paint and shelving! Why is Mary wilting over there in the corner? I look around. Okay, there is still a lot of stuff here to be removed; but we can do it, I’m sure. The next few days are spent with her in a commotion struggling to remove 20 years of art supplies from the space and trying to keep the rest of her house in some kind of order. I drag her out and we go shopping for paint colours!
I’m having such fun with the house next door! Why is my neighbour looking so frazzled lately? Will have to talk to her about that. Perhaps she needs a new doctor…….
AND NOW ONTO HER SIDE OF THINGS….
I have new neighbors!! I see, through the overgrown hedge, a flaxen-haired girl and two men. I can’t see too well through the hedge….it is overgrown, leftover from the previous owners next door. They surrounded their property with a 3-foot holly hedge, indigenous to this area, scrupulously maintained at exactly 3 feet which drank up a lot of standing water and did not block out the breezes that need to pass through, which can be very still, dead air in the humid summers.
The next neighbor let the hedge grow and added a high solid board fence around the property to protect their dogs and children. I wonder what the new neighbors will do?
I introduce myself one day when they are out of doors and see that they are a man, his wife, and their teenage son…..nice polite people so I extend an invitation for tea and hope she will come and be sociable. She comes for tea and we get acquainted. She is from Pennsylvania and doesn’t know Maryland or the Eastern Shore so I offer to introduce her to the amenities of the area when she has time…she works on her computer at home.
We have several bike rides around the village, become more friendly, and she says they wish to trim back the hedge. I suggest, “Why don’t you cut an arch or portal in the middle so we can access the property rather than use the street.” She agrees and gladly snips away. Voila! We have a charming, natural gateway – a hedge with a hole in the middle.
Here she comes through the hedge. Today, she sees my computer and remarks on how old it is..….a relic given to me by my daughter – an old Apple, which I am comfortably familiar with. I just use it for e-mail and music. My neighbor is very young, modern, hip, and energetic and is ready to take on the chore of upgrading me from an old slow Apple to a new quick laptop, which my daughters had tried to do for several years while I stubbornly stayed with the familiar and wished for the old days. My neighbor persevered, with youthful expertise, and carefully nudged me into trying a new hookup and faster service. I wish I could crawl back to a quieter, less complex, pre-computer age. My daughters are delighted. My new neighbor has succeeded in accomplishing what they had been trying to do for years.
OMG! Where’s the Z?! The computer man’s coming and my daughter calls to ask if I’m packed and ready to fly to the Caymans tomorrow. Are you kidding? My computer, telephone, and TV are being switched to a new, complete, efficient bundle!! Oh, how nice…where’s the Z?! (Z is a zone where I go to find a calm acceptance of life). Today, my neighbor comes from the house next door, through the hedge to hold my hand while the computer man reconnects all these wires! OMG! I am glad but sad when I’m lost in the labyrinth of a whole new system, more buttons, and wires, flash ads and unwanted advertisements – a Pandora’s Box. And then we have to stop my orientation of the new system because the computer man’s truck has gone dead and now my neighbor needs a lift to pick up her car before the dealer closes and I’m still not packed to fly out of here. OMG!!! ”Good fences make good neighbors!” Who knew I’d been doing Robert Frost in an era of OMG and GWI?
After my return from the Caymans, I crawl through the hedge to join my neighbor for a shopping trip to the electronics store for a new phone and end up with a cell phone too. Now I have two phones, neither of which I can use.
A few weeks later, it’s the studio. OMG! They are coming through the hedge to hang the shelves and I’m not ready. All this clutter and collection of 15 years and what will I do with all of it??!! OMG! I just found a black snippet on the floor under the counter and it’ is an 1887 B/W photo of Uncle Vincent!!! OMG!! They saw and they hammer. There is nowhere to step!
I can’t crawl back to the high hedge but……..