I love the Litchfield Hills — the sound of it (a lot of quietude), the warp and weft of tall trees everywhere, curving byways, ups and downs and a herd of cows watching as you walk by their pasture. I also appreciate that very few people fence-in their homes. It wasn’t like that in Florida.
Robert Frost, famous for his “two roads” poem, also said “Good fences make good neighbors.” My last home in Florida was a pink stucco ranch in a zero-lot-line development. What that meant was, a neighbor was on either side, very, very close. We were separated by a cyclone fence on the North side and a six-foot high stockade fence afforded some privacy on the South border from the adjoining beige stucco ranch.
On moving-in day, the occupant of the beige stucco house came in with the movers, introducing herself as my neighbor Gladys. I thought that was very friendly of her, a nice welcome to the neighborhood; that is, until she proceeded to walk through our new home, poking into boxes and commenting on furniture already in place.
“I see you read a lot, lotta books. I don’t read much myself. Waste of money,” she informed me. “Nice sectional. Is that real leather? Bad idea in this humidity. Your legs are gonna stick to it.”
My husband gave me The Look, and I think Gladys must have seen The Look also, but that didn’t impact her running commentary one tiny bit. Twenty minutes later, the only way I could remove her from the premises was to actually pull her by the elbow, lock the front door and climb into our car, saying we needed to get some groceries.
“I’ll see you when you get back,” she told us, smiling cheerfully. And an hour later, when we returned, she quickly rose from her pink and yellow lawn chair plunked down in the middle of her sunburned lawn and rushed over to greet us. I grudgingly thought she was quite agile for a woman I judged to be in her early eighties.
We had lived in South Florida for 25 years and knew that most cities are really not places where you know your neighbors. I always respected that. Occasionally we formed friendships through common interests or while walking in the neighborhood, but mostly we just nodded or waved a brief greeting to those living around us. That was acknowledgment of conventional barriers of South Floridian culture, which was definitely not part of the South, although North Florida definitely was. Yeah, it’s confusing.
My husband promised to put up our own barrier — an eight-foot high stockade fence. But that seemed extreme, and expensive and ugly. I tried to find ways to be briefly polite while discreetly backing away from Gladys when we ran into each other. But she had some kind of intuitive radar and always knew when we were coming, going, or sitting on our patio. She commented on everything, barged into al fresco dinners with friends to ask how much the lobster cost, and always laid in wait for us in that blasted pink and yellow lawn chair.
As we were leaving for an evening at the very special French restaurant. La Vieille Maison, Gladys cornered us at the end of our flagstone walk, demanded to know where we were going, and then offered the helpful remark, “You’re not going to wear that dress to Boca Raton, are you?”
Finally, in desperation, I told my husband, “Do it — do it now — build it high.”