Robert Frost said, “Good fences make good neighbours,” but I’m forever grateful for the low chain-link fence that allowed me to befriend you, Andrea and Graeme. When we first moved into the neighbourhood, I’d hoped for a large wood fence for privacy’s sake. I like visiting as much as the next person, but I also love letting my dogs out at four in the morning wearing nothing but a towel.
We first met the two of you 15 years ago, when you and my husband, Bob, built homes next to each other in a new community in Calgary. I moved in with Bob shortly after and immediately took to the couple next door. You were quiet and warm, and when I saw Andrea reading a novel on your back deck with the sun shining down on her, I thought, “This is my kind of person.” Like most suburbanites, we didn’t see each other much in the beginning. We’d pull into our garages after work and drive away the next day. But once we started having children, all of that changed.
Those tender shoots of friendship took root when you had your first child about 10 months before our daughter Claire was born. Claire was only a few hours old when Andrea dropped by with a soft new sleeper for her and a basket of muffins warm from the oven. I’m a little hesitant socially—I love hanging out with those I’m close to, but it takes a bit of time and coaxing for me to become friends with new people. Thankfully, Andrea, you didn’t give up on me. You’d call every day and ask if I’d like to join you for a walk. At first I begged off, feeling tired and fragile with all the responsibilities of new motherhood. But soon I started accepting your invitations, and before we knew it, we were walking together and having tea while our babies played. You showed me where the fun playgroups were, and you were instrumental in organizing weekly meetings with a group of neighbourhood mothers on maternity leave. You showed me how to build a community of friends.
When our second babies were born, our families were tethered together by the fierce friendship of our older children. “Please, please let us have a movie night!” our kids would beg. We never said no, because it was so lovely to catch up over pizza while the children played. And it became a joke between our families when the kids began stalking each other’s houses, staring out the window with military precision, waiting for their friends to get home from school. They’d grab their Harry Potter costumes and be off, lost in the bliss of playing with their best friends. Having a family right next door whose kids play well with yours and whose parents you trust is like winning a free vacation.
How many hours did we spend chatting over the fence while the kids ran back and forth between our yards? “I’m sorry, I held her off as long as possible,” you’d say when your daughter would call before 8 a.m. to see if my girls could play. I would chuckle because my kids would have already been bugging me to call you as well. How special was the summer the kids built a fort in the trees behind our homes? They spent hours there reading and immersed in imaginative play. I remember my mother remarking that their freedom to play reminded her of childhoods in the 1960s.
Fifteen years of living close by have seen our families survive our share of trials. You were there for us when Claire was hospitalized with a staph infection at age five. I’ll never forget your children coming over with a few of their own toys lovingly wrapped in a paper bag they’d decorated. And when I found out my dad only had a year to live, the support you provided was a balm to my broken heart.
My dad had been gone for a year when you came over to say you were about to realize your dream of living on an acreage outside the city, and had already purchased a house. I felt numb and suddenly rootless. If friendship is like a garden, then our families have spent some of our time together dealing with life’s weeds. But in spite of the clutch of anxiety I feel over your move, I’m happy for you.
Novelist Ally Condie wrote, “Growing apart doesn’t change the fact that for a long time, we grew side by side; our roots will always be tangled.” And so, before you go on your new adventure, please know that I’m forever grateful for the years we spent growing our families together. May our tangled roots keep our friendship strong.
This article appears in print in the August 2019 issue of Maclean’s magazine with the headline, “Dear neighbours…” Subscribe to the monthly print magazine here.
This essay is part of Maclean’s Before You Go series, which collects unique, heartfelt letters from Canadians taking the time to say “Thanks, I love you” to special people in their lives—because we shouldn’t have to wait until it’s too late to tell our loved ones how we really feel. Read more essays here. If you would like to see your own letters or reflections published, send us an email here. For more details about submitting your own, click here.
MORE ABOUT BEFORE YOU GO:
- A letter to a ‘Grumpy’ grandfather: ‘When you leave us you will be so terribly missed’
- A daughter’s letter to her dad: ‘You never let me forget where I came from’
- A sister’s letter to her big brother: ‘You teased me but secretly I adored you’
- From a granddaughter to her zaida: ‘The greatest storyteller was always you’