Seven years ago this summer, my family moved to Edmonds. It took us about a month before we realized there was a secret gate in our back yard.
Yeah, that seems like something you would notice right away, but we didn’t. A new job, a new roof, a 1-year-old Tasmanian devil; we were kind of busy.
Anyhow, sometime that summer we discovered the mysterious gate. But it is what was behind that gate that was so special. Our yard joined with the yard of our neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. S.
The S’s were a retired couple who had lived in Edmonds a long time. They knew everyone and everyone knew and loved them.
Best of all, Mr. and Mrs. S had a grandchild my son’s age. So whenever we would hear each other outside, we would open the gate between our back yards and the little red-headed grandson would come and play with my blond-haired boy.
By the time I was pregnant with my daughter, the fence between our yards was getting older and needed to be replaced.
My husband and I offered three times to help share the cost. New fences are really expensive, and we wanted to be good neighbors. But Mr. and Mrs. S wouldn’t hear of us contributing a dime.
One day I looked outside and a new fence was going up, complete with a new gate.
It was the kind of moment that made me think, “Dang! That’s how it’s done. That’s what it means to be kind, big-hearted and selfless all rolled into one.” Because replacing the fence was one thing. Replacing the gate, too, was a whole different level of generous.
A little while after my daughter was born, Mrs. S lost her long battle with breast cancer.
It’s still really hard for me to go into our back yard and not think of Mrs. S, even though it’s been several years. Every time the Solomon’s Seal blooms, every time I pass the school where she used to teach, every time we do the rainforest puzzle she gave my children, I think of her.
Mr. S moved away later that fall, and a new family now lives in their house. That family has a little boy about my daughter’s age.
Whenever we hear each other outside, we open the gate between our back yards and the little brown-haired boy plays with my blond-haired daughter.
When our neighbors go on vacation, they cut through our back yards bringing their pet fish, Nemo and Nemo, for my son to look after.
Sometimes my daughter stands at the gate and just starts knocking, waiting for the little boy to come.
People say that good fences make good neighbors. But if you’re really lucky, it’s the other way around.
Jennifer Bardsley blogs at teachingmybabytoread.com.