Reader essay: A good fence and a good neighbor

The broken fence at Anne Donlon Achenbach's home The broken fence at Anne Donlon Achenbach's home before it was fixed by a neighbor Photo Credit: Anne Donlon Achenbach

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Fifty years ago on a steaming hot July Fourth afternoon, a real estate agent showed us a house in the South Farmingdale-North Massapequa area. My husband and I had driven from New Jersey. He grew up in Jamaica, Queens, and wished to live on Long Island. I was indifferent and quite content in the Garden State, but acceded to his wishes.

We liked the house, liked the way it faced a bicycle path and woods at Bethpage State Park, and the price was right.

Our 4-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son were restless in the car after the long trip, and we made our decision to buy what would be our home for far longer than we anticipated.

But there was one issue. It was a corner property, and we both agreed there had to be a fence.

So after moving in, the first expenditure was for lumber, and my husband and his brother encircled our corner lot with a reasonably adequate, if not quite professional, fence. They planted several vertical posts, and connected them with three long, horizontal boards. While our little ones napped in the afternoons, I painted the fence white.

There have been many changes in our lives since that fence went up. The seams of the home we shared are no longer bursting with the fabulous four, as we called our four children, and most of the original neighbors have been replaced with new ones. However, the fence remains, and, at the moment, so do I.

The fence has been repaired more often than I can remember. Most times a broken board or two was easily repaired by one of the male inhabitants of the house. During the past decade, it has been repainted professionally, and tired sections repaired several times.

But more recently, the fence had turned green with mildew. Its weathered boards were too porous to paint, so this spring I reluctantly had it rebuilt and repainted. This was a necessary evil if I were to remain in my beloved home, but also an unexpected expense. It was finished by the end of May.

Within a week, however, I was stunned to discover that a portion of it was demolished. A post was broken and the horizontal planks were left lying on the ground. There were no tire tracks. Who or what did this, I don't know.

The fence is just a thing, not a life, but for the first time in the years I had spent on my corner, I felt defeated. I felt as if possibly there was a message: Time to move on, stop trying. Defeat is not usually part of my makeup. This time it was.

As I was taking a photo of the damage for a police report, a young man approached me from across the street. He introduced himself as a relatively new neighbor, and offered sympathy for the vandalism. I appreciated meeting him, and also his understanding.

The next evening as I ate my dinner, I heard noise outside. When I walked into the yard, I realized the sounds came from my property. As I walked closer, I saw the neighbor I had just met repairing my fence.

Indeed good Samaritans are alive and well and lurk in Massapequa -- and incredibly welcome!

Reader Anne Donlon Achenbach lives in South Farmingdale.

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