By Ernie Williamson
The poet Robert Frost once wrote “Good fences make good neighbors.”
A bizarre series of recent events showed me he may be right.
It all started when my wife noticed our garden hose was not in its normal resting place.
It had been stretched across the backyard and pulled through a hole in our fence into our neighbor’s yard.
Our first thought: Was somebody trying to use our water?
After a little sleuthing, however, a new motive and suspect emerged: We theorized it was the neighbor’s dog, apparently thinking our hose was a toy.
Our suspicions were confirmed when we discovered more evidence the next morning. The hose, which had been put back in its normal place, was again stretched over to the back fence. And this time the dog left a calling card in the form of a pile of evidence in the patio.
Clearly, it was time to fix our fence.
We had put off repairing our fence because of the high cost of lumber due to supply disruptions during the pandemic.
The wobbly fence we shared with our neighbor to our right had several sections needing constant repair.
The back fence obviously needed repair to keep the dog from playing with our hose.
But just as we settled on these repairs, a storm blew through in the night. The next morning, we discovered that the fence on our left - the only remaining good fence when we went to bed - had been flattened by high winds.
Mother Nature had turned a relatively inexpensive repair of sections of the fence into an expensive total replacement job.
Lumber prices be damned. It was time to build a new fence.
I assume many of you know from experience that replacing a common fence isn’t as easy as it seems. It requires more than construction. Diplomacy, compromise, and patience are needed.
According to Texas law, if your fence is right on the property line between your neighbor’s property and your property, neither you nor your neighbor owns a side; it’s a shared fence responsibility.
Furthermore, a homeowner has no legal obligation to share in the costs or future maintenance of a fence unless there is a prior agreement to do so.
We had no such agreement. This meant negotiating with four neighbors (there are two different properties for the back fence). All four had no obligation to help replace the fence.
I contacted them and negotiations began over such things as who would pay what, who gets the “ugly side” of the fence with the rails, and who gets the “pretty side” with just the pickets.
And then, of course, our homeowner's association has strict guidelines to follow.
I felt like Elon Musk negotiating his Twitter purchase.
One problem was I didn’t know how to reach the woman with the dog.
She had just recently moved into the neighborhood and I didn’t know her name and didn’t have a phone number. I didn’t even know what she looked like.
You are probably wondering why I didn’t just ring her doorbell.
I am in a wheelchair. Because the Americans with Disabilities Act doesn’t apply to private homes, there was no way I could get my wheelchair up the steps. The doorbell was out of reach.
So, one evening I rolled my wheelchair around the block and camped out in front of the house.
After a few minutes, a car pulled into the driveway. A woman carrying groceries got out and headed for the front door.
“Just a minute,” I yelled at her. “Can I speak with you for a minute about our fence.”
The woman looked puzzled and started speaking Spanish. Great, I thought. As if negotiating a fence wasn’t hard enough, we now had a language barrier.
I looked up the Spanish word for fence on my phone. She looked even more puzzled and pointed to the groceries and said “delivery.”
No wonder the delivery woman was puzzled. She had probably never been confronted by a guy in a wheelchair shouting “valla, valla” as she delivered groceries.
I felt stupid, but at least I now had someone to ring the doorbell for me.
I am glad to say that I have worked out most of the details with my neighbors and construction of our fences has started.
One unexpected result of the fence project is that I know more about my neighbors. They are no longer people that just happen to live next door.
(Contact Ernie at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or, send letters in care of The Bulletin, PO Box 2426, Angleton, TX. 77516)