38: Mending All

38: Mending All

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Home Sweet Home

Mending All

There’s nothing to match curling up with a good book when there’s a repair job to be done around the house.

~Joe Ryan

In his poem “Mending Wall,” Robert Frost playfully asks his neighbor why they need a stone wall when there are no cows to stray. The taciturn neighbor replies: “Good fences make good neighbors.”

Although I might not always have agreed with that sentiment, recent experience has taught me otherwise. Good fences do, indeed, make good neighbors. And so do good trees, good roofs and good driveways.

When it comes to home maintenance, I am neither handy nor ambitious. My idea of spending a sunny spring day involves a book and a chair rather than a scraper and a paintbrush.

But over the last dozen plus years, I have come to realize that not all people share my philosophy of home repair. When something starts to wear, fray, peel or crumble, most people are inclined to grab a tool and get to work.

I always figured this was a personal choice and that my laissez-faire approach was as valued and respected as the can-do ethic evidenced by my neighbors. After all, I didn’t try to convince them of the necessity of pursuing leisure and they didn’t try to persuade me to change my hedonistic ways.

On occasion, our philosophies would clash. When one neighbor wanted to extend the sideyard fence, I chafed at the idea of spending several days of what, to me, appeared to be pointless labor. But when he offered to do the work himself and split the bill, I happily went along.

Some time later, the opposite neighbor pointed out that the lower branches of the two large pine trees bordering our shared fence were impinging on his yard. Thus, I was obliged to trim the lower branches of the two trees.

So it was with some surprise that I found myself attacking the large pine tree in our front yard. The lower branches of our “maintenance free” tree had grown so big that they were brushing up against our car. Thus, even though no neighbor had asked, I tackled the job of trimming its as well.

At my wife’s urging, I began the dreaded task. Using my handy pruning shears, I lopped off a couple of dozen low hanging branches and hauled them onto the lawn. For the next three hours, I cut, trimmed and bundled the branches into manageable piles for the garbage man and raked and bagged the remaining mess for recycling.

Amidst all of my sweating, grunting and groaning, I was periodically interrupted by various neighbors. One of my immediate neighbors came over to encourage me in my task. He commented on the great improvement and urged me to trim even more of the offending branches. He even lent me his pruning saw to make the task easier.

Some time later, the neighbor from the other side dropped by to survey the job and praise my efforts. According to him, the removal of the lower branches had made a huge difference. He offered me a beer and cheered me on.

As the job progressed, other neighbors dropped by with nothing but kind words for my work. Suggestions were made; encouragement was offered. Apparently there was a huge pent-up demand on my street for the trimming of this particular tree.

When the job was finally completed, I was exhausted. My face was covered with sweat, my clothes were covered with pine needles and my arms were covered with scratches. I had to admit that the tree looked better with its new clean lines and open bottom. But had it been worth it?

According to my wife, yes. And according to half a dozen neighbors, yes. And to the extent that it bought me a couple more years of peace and quiet, even I had to admit that it may have been worth the effort.

The problem is that the removal of the pine branches has highlighted the poor repair of our driveway. With more cracks than a discarded Easter egg, our piece of macadam is long overdue for re-paving. Not by my estimation, of course. But if those looks I’m getting from my neighbors are any indication, I’ve got some more work to do.

~David Martin

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