Neighbors First, Polemics Aside

Neighbors First, Polemics Aside

I saw the bumper sticker on my neighbor Rob's work van while we were jacking up my barn, where Rob keeps the hay that he cuts from my field. The barn needed new sills. It needed them 20 years ago when my father-in-law (a three-star general no less) suggested, "You ought to tear that think down."

The rear end of Rob's van reads: "Visualize No Liberals."

In the 30 years I've known Rob, I can't recall our discussing politics in any depth. Our palavering tends toward the practical: our children, firewood, cow fences, sagging barns, etc.

The closest we've come to polemics was when a discussion somehow meandered onto evolution. Rob wasn't sold just yet on the notion that we'd descended from monkeys. I replied, "Rob, hold that thought until you've met the rest of the Holahan clan." We laughed and got back to our chores.

If civilization as we know it ended tomorrow, you'd want Rob living next door. He knows how to grocery shop in the woods, how to fix things, and he owns a wide assortment of tools and weapons, including a medieval-looking crossbow for hunting.

You haven't lived until you've had venison sausage or free-range beef from a cow you've gotten to know by name and fed when you neighbors were away (for example, "Sir Loin"). In return I share with Rob and his family fresh organic produce from my garden.

Rob and I swap wildlife sightings and watch each other's houses. One morning when his daughter Rebecca came over to feed our cat while we were away, a strange, groggy gentleman arose from our living room couch to greet her. The stranger had apparently spent the night there.

Rob, who goes about six-foot five-inches, caught up with our "visitor" before he made it to the road and marched him back down to the house to take inventory (Later, when we got the results, my wife and I were minded: he hadn't touched a thing). The police took forever, and Rob had stuff to do, so he set the hungover young man free after gathering his personal data.

Now that's a good neighbor.

Not that we haven't had issues over three decades. There was the great chicken-manure tiff. Rob was all for continuing to spread it on our field, and my wife was agin' it. In her defense, you haven't truly gone country until your nasal passages have been suffused for several weeks straight with the pungent aroma of raw steaming fowl feces. Moldering cow flop is perfume by comparison.

Rob had been spreading it for several years after learning that chicken farmers virtually would give the nitrogen-rich goop away — it being essentially hazardous waste. One year the hay grew so lush he could barely cut it.

Our dog, Bix, would luxuriate in the offal stuff (which included chicken parts) and then leap on our bed. I gave Rob the bad news. We'd taken a household vote, and it was a tie. He finished my sentence: "And the wife wins all ties."

Bix used to harass Robs' cows some, but then stopped. I knew it wasn't my doing. When Rob came calling, Bix, normally a model hostess, grew scarce.

The year I grew the ginormous pumpkin ("Gourd-geous George" weighed more than half a ton), Rob diverted some manure from his fields, and it was his backhoe and flatbed truck that enable "Team Pumpkin" to deliver the blue-ribbon winner to the prestigious Hadlyme Pumpkin Derby. The two of us were admiring George's progress, when the misshapen monstrosity was still on the vine, and Rob exclaimed, "Neighbor, you've come a long way."

So given all of the above, I resisted the temptation to reply to Rob's bumper sticker. He and I have agreed on too many things and worked on too many projects together to inject gratuitous polemics, which are all the rage, into our relationship. Besides, I think Rob knows intuitively where I stand on the political spectrum.

What's more, we had work to do.

As we raised the west side of my 19th century barn a good two feet, back to the level of its former glory, Rob cautioned, "Be careful that the screw jack doesn't kick out on you."

It was good advice.