Thursday, November 24, 2011

Living The Big Sky Life: Good Fences Make Good Neighbors

When our quest to find the perfect house began in June of 1992, we did what most people do when preparing to make a large purchase they expected to live with for a long time; namely, we prioritized our list of top three must-haves to include something for everyone. Everything else pretty much got thrown into the “we’ll know it when we see it” bucket.

Now anyone who has ever worked around the real estate industry for any period of time would’ve undoubtedly heard the three basic rules of real estate preached like a mantra from every professional’s pulpit. And while the timeless rules of “1) Location 2) Location 3) Location” have shown themselves to be typically true during my years in the business, I also knew that sometimes the rules needed a little bending, especially under extenuating circumstances.

I personally considered our need to evacuate the claustrophobic Unabomber bungalow as soon as possible to be an extenuating circumstance. This admittedly influenced our priority list enough to make it look more like this:

1) more room(s)/square footage (something for me);

2) a kitchen layout with potential (something for Chef); and lastly

3) Location - the essential rule of land acquisition, which in this case really meant ‘the neighborhood’ since we intended to stay in Whitefish (something for everyone).

It’s with this list that we ultimately found our new home on the range. The spacious 10-acre lot with a duck pond and circular views we ended up with were frankly bonus, not to mention a great place for the dog to play. Another bonus was the fact that the smallest lot on our long block was 5 acres which made unwelcomed peeping next to impossible absent a strong pair of binoculars.

Thanks, in part, to our urban-styled upbringing in “The OC”, Chef and I tended to be naturally cautious about who we invited to share in our private lives, and we weren’t inclined to quickly immerse ourselves into any neighborhood or community. Nor were we prone to make our neighbors part of our social circle or privy to our personal business simply because they lived on the same street.

My 5th grade daughter was of a different mindset, however, and this became evident as soon as I pulled my urban-mobile into our new driveway behind the truck packed with our moving boxes. She wasted no time in jumping out of the car and onto her bicycle to pedal her way back down the lengthy driveway to the street on a self-assigned mission to visit every house on the block. When she finally returned, breathless from a busy day of making the acquaintance of every new neighbor we had, it became clear that she’d generously shared our life history (as she knew it) with everyone on the block. And we, of course, got the unfiltered lowdown on them as well. All quiet cringing aside, I found this to be a true “out of the mouths of babes” moment that proved to be a nice blessing for her as time passed.

In spite of my daughter’s enthusiastic exchange of personal information at the outset, Chef and I tended to remain neutral and relatively elusive when it came to interacting with our neighbors overall. Obviously this wasn’t the case with my daughter. She’d managed to thoroughly endear herself to most of the neighborhood during that introductory bike ride, and many of them proved to be actively devoted to her during the years we lived there.

No man is an island, and I sometimes think neighbors are there to remind us of that, whether we like them or not. The problem is that we don’t really get to pick our neighbors - we inherit them because they come with the house. Our new house was situated in the middle of a long block culminating in a cul-de-sac which was lined with about a dozen other houses whose occupants had now become our inheritance. And like it or not, we’d become theirs.

The first neighbor we met was Carl, an elderly retired man who lived directly across the street from us with his wife, Milly. Carl and Milly were the poster-grannies of every child’s fantasy, and could easily have passed for Mr. and Mrs. Claus as far as I was concerned, if only Carl had seen fit to grow a full white beard. Carl was a rotund old fellow of medium height who securely belted his pants high above his belly button which thankfully spared us from seeing his low hanging apron of belly fat in the flesh.

Summer had just made its debut when Carl walked over to pay Chef a visit one afternoon as he was out in our front yard trimming debris from a large spruce tree. After some precursory pleasantries, Carl got to the point. He wanted to know if we intended to decorate our front yard with Christmas lights during the holiday season like the previous owner used to do, because it would be a real shame if we were the only house on the block to sit in the dark during December.

At this point, our boxes hadn’t even been unpacked, and Carl wanted to know if we had the holiday display for our huge new house already planned out? Chef intentionally remained noncommittal throughout the conversation because lighting up the house for the holidays was clearly not a priority; the holiday was half a year away. We had no way of knowing in advance how devout Carl was to the Christmas lights cause though, and that made his offer to come over in December to string the lights around our large front trees himself (if we weren’t going to do it ourselves) all the more puzzling.

Apparently a big black 10-acre hole in the middle of the street on Christmas Eve was unacceptable to Mr. Claus.

After Thanksgiving, we had the opportunity to witness just how far Carl’s puzzling obsession with Christmas lights went when he set out to decorate not only his house, but his entire 5-acre lot which was rectangular in shape, and enclosed with a double-railed wooden fence that ran along the entire perimeter of the property. This was about 2,000 linear feet in border fencing alone, not to mention the fences that lined both sides of his long driveway or the fencing that encircled his house. And Carl made sure that every inch of those fence tops and the house too were brilliantly illuminated by a mile-long string of traditional white Christmas bulbs.

It was a sight to behold in any kind of weather, and like Noah and the Ark, clearly Mr. Claus had some deep calling to create the kind of landing strip that Santa could see even in the worst of blizzards. Perhaps this was a classic case of “build it and he will come.”

The angular light show Carl put on for the neighborhood every evening in December was simply too much for his next door neighbor to let pass without comment. So one night in early December, James phoned Carl and announced in the best pilot-to-control-tower voice he could muster, “This is Delta, requesting permission to land.”

And no, we didn’t make Carl come over and string lights around our trees as offered. We did it our way, and never had a problem with Delta looking for clearance to land on our property.

To Be Continued … ”Geography Has Made Us Neighbors

Living The Big Sky LifeTM
© by DK King

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