Behind the house where I grew up was a tennis court. It belonged to a neighbor whose extensive property included several acres behind our house. We didn’t have much of a backyard; it abutted a low stone wall behind which was a standard, neighbor-separating wooden fence. Towering above that fence was a practice backboard. Most of the year, weather permitting, we’d hear either the soft plop of tennis balls being hit back and forth on the clay court, or the bang, bang, bang, of a solo player practicing on the backboard.
Sometimes there’d be a “Darn!” and a ball would fly over the fence. Sometimes it would be the other way around. Then, from the kitchen window, we’d watch someone climb over the stone wall, drop into the yard, take a quick look around, scrabble through the pachysandra and hop back over the way they’d come.
If we were outside at the time, and heard or witnessed the event, we’d call, “Hang on,” and send the ball flying back over. However, there were times when we’d be out sun-bathing, or reading, or otherwise hanging out, and we’d be oblivious to the advent of the ball and surprised by the appearance of the tennis player. The surprise was often mutual and we’d watch the ball chaser’s visage change from slightly annoyed to hang-dog when they discovered that they were not alone in our yard either. I never minded these intrusions. In fact, I quite enjoyed them.
Some people guard their privacy. I am not one of them. As I write this I am sitting on my front porch, listening to the bees in the wisteria and keeping an eye on the world as it wanders by; willing it to wander by. If I’m lucky, someone will notice me and wave hello, or venture up to the porch for a chat. If I didn’t want to be bothered I’d stay in my office upstairs, or enjoy the weather on my back porch where, until recently, I would have had all the privacy anyone could want.
We have new neighbors on the far side of our backyard fence, a lovely young family with two small children. We’ve had several neighborly interactions with them and last weekend they invited us, via text message, to come to a barbecue to celebrate their little boy’s first birthday. Feeling a little awkward and shy, we ventured over. Most of the guests were visiting family members from New York and Pennsylvania, including an eight-year-old whose batting prowess was such that several balls had to be retrieved from other neighbor’s yards during the course of the party.
The next day, while I was sitting on my front porch, one of the out-of-town relatives and his eight-year-old appeared from behind my house and strolled down the side, looking for a lost ball. I was surprised, but not unhappily. I joined them in their search, even introduced them to another neighbor so we could look in their yard, too, but we couldn’t find it. Later, when I told my daughter this story, she said, “Oh, they found it.” She had just watched the new neighbor cross our backyard to retrieve it.
Now that I’ve shared this snippet of my life, it occurs to me that it’s less about the relative merits of privacy than it is an admission of how much I like company, no matter where it comes from, or how it gets here—as long as no windows are broken in the process.