Thursday, January 11, 2007

The Purple Fence

When our children were babies, we bought a home in neighborhood that had been built about thirty years before. Many of the houses, including ours, had large, fenced back yards. A few had fences around the smaller front lawns, as well. But, all of the fences in the neighborhood were low, as was the style of fencing when the neighborhood was originally built. They were all just about the right height for the proverbial chat across the fence with your neighbor.

We were very curious about one particular fence. It stood between two houses on the main street of our neighborhood. The fence was taller than the houses it separated. I think it was made of thin plywood sheets nailed together, but I'm not sure Whatever material it was made from, it was solid! And, it completely blocked either house's view of the other. On the side closest to the entrance of the neighborhood, it was grayish. We were even more puzzled when we were when we discovered the opposite side was painted a deep purple.

You couldn't miss this fence, since it stood so near the main entrance of the neighborhood. In time, we came to accept this huge, solid fence as just being part of the landscape. Personally, I thought the fence was an eyesore, but I assumed that the owner of the fence must have had some good reason for building it.

Finally, after we had been in the neighborhood for quite a while, we learned the story of the fence:

Originally, the houses were separated by a fence of normal height. One house was owned by a family with young children. In the course of playing their ball games, the kids would occasionally send a ball over the fence into the neighbors' yard. The neighbors' on the other side of the fence resented this. So, they asked the first set of neighbors to ask their kids to be more careful. But, the kids accidentally sent another ball over, and the neighbors complained about that, and so on and so on. Finally, one of the families developed a long-term grudge toward the other one. That family decided to get by erecting a huge fence and painting the side toward their enemies an ugly shade of purple.

By the time we lived in the neighborhood, the children must have either grown or they quit playing ball. I don't remember seeing any children around either house. But, there the fence still sat. And, it made both yards look ugly.

Perhaps, the family who erected the fence got their point across to their neighbors. But, in doing so, I can only assume that they hurt themselves, as well. Can you imagine looking out of the windows on that side of the house, only to see this huge, ugly, sun-blocking barrier? It would have made me feel positively claustraphobic. And, I'm sure it diminished the property values of both houses: Who would want to move into a house with such an ugly fence standing in the way? Not only that, but the fence would be a constant reminder of their hatred. Was their grudge worth losing the friendship of their next-door neighbors and the good estimation of the whole neighborhood?

We moved from that town many years ago. I hadn't thought about that purple fence in years.

Then, I read this today: "A feeling of hatred in time gives birth to a spirit of vengeance and retaliation. Many years ago, in a fashionable district in Brooklyn, a woman developed such intense dislike for her neighbor that she had a fourteen-foot wall built around her property. Before long, her own flowers and shrubs withered and died from a lack of sunlight -- while her neighbor's bloomed in all their beauty. Vengeance is a boomerang which returns with more venom than it sends forth. Even the world loses respect for the spiteful person." From "You can Be Beautiful."

I don't know if the second story is real or is just an illustration. But, I have seen a real-life 14 foot fence -- that ugly purple-gray fence near the entrance of our neighborhood. In thinking about it today, I have made the following "note to self" : Do not go around building ugly purple-gray fences in your heart. Nursing bitterness doesn't heal the hurt and only punishes you."

Fortunately, I also have a happy fence story from that same neighborhood: The backyard fence between the neighbors on our left side and our property was lined with blackberry bushes that produced the largest, sweetest, most lucious fruit. The neighbors' children were all grown. They had fewer mouths to feed, and the woman of the house had canned what must have been a liftime supply of blackberry jam. The couple had lost interest in the bushes. So, they told us to help ourselves to as many blackberries as we pleased. Our young family enjoyed many a cobbler and many a jar of jam from the bounty. We greatly benefited from the bushes our neighbors had planted years before we ever moved in.


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