Fielding balls in the backyard

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.

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7 responses to “Fielding balls in the backyard

  1. nice entry. I love that I know my neighbors. When my snowblower is working, I like to do the sidewalks for everyone on my block. I regard it as a nice, neighborly thing to do, as well as payback for tolerating teenage parties (back in those days) and yapping dogs. One of the main reasons we bought in Arlington was it still feels like neighborhoods, and the kids still walked to school in groups.

  2. Our neighborhood is filling up with families with children. Which is actually quite nice. My only thoughts are nothing gets broken and no one gets hurt and otherwise its all good.

  3. There was an elderly, eccentric woman who lived alone at the top of my street. My daughters had been warned by some well-meaning parent to stay away from her. That she was “a little nutty, and might be dangerous.” But one day, for some reason, my oldest daughter stopped to chat with her. She recognized the woman was just old and alone, and showing signs of aging, like her own grandmother. The elderly woman showed her all the pictures of her family, children, grandchildren and late husband. Sam shared this with me later, very sad that this woman was so lonely, and so appreciative of some company, and “grown ups” who didn’t even know her were spreading false rumors. My daughter stopped in frequently after that to check on “Mimi.” And later, my younger daughter did the same. About two years later, we noticed her house being cleared out. We stopped and inquired about her, and her grown children said she had to be put into a home, and they were preparing the house for sale. It just made me sad that, for every Ariel Castro that “lurks” out there (and always has), there are hundreds of lonely, house-bound elderly people suffering from loneliness and isolation. And the importance of community and being a “good neighbor” is as an important a lesson to teach our children as is caution and street smarts.

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