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Boundaries and Bonds

Almost three years ago, on the first Sunday of my "retired life," I left the church after morning service giddy with newfound freedom. Instead of turning left, from the church driveway, to go straight home, as usual, I decided to turn right, drive to the nearby village and visit my mother-in-law, whom I love.

I found her in her backyard, sitting on a garden swing, beneath a canopy that shaded her from the August sun. She loves to be out in the fresh air and loves to garden. Undeterred by the fact that her knees hurt and her leg may "give way" at any moment, she will strategize as though planning a complex military operation, and somehow accomplish the goal she has in mind. In between these manoeuvres, she will stop until she regains energy for the next onslaught.

That afternoon, we sat for a couple of pleasant hours in the sun. Around us, insects buzzed, birds sang, the breeze played with our hair as the canvas canopy over our heads flapped--and we talked--and talked on. I realize now that turning right that Sunday morning, foreshadowed what was to be a new priority--visits with Mum B. Since that August day, during our weekly visit on Wednesday mornings, we have shared hundreds of hours of conversation and laughter.

She talks about the past and her memories of relationships with neighbours. "Mrs Holder!" she would call over the fence if she had a heavy basket of washing to hang on the line, "Are you using your prop?" And if Mrs Holder was there she would launch a Y shaped pole over the fence, so that Mum B could use it further down from her own prop, to keep the washing from trailing in the dirt. 

What catches my interest is how she addressed the friend who lived next door for so many years--the friend whom she supported when she needed more help than a line prop. How formal the address: "Mrs Holder." And yet this was what these neighbours were to one another: Mrs Holder; Mrs Burston; Mrs Atkinson. And I remember my own mother being greeted by the shopkeepers in our village, "Hello, Mrs Cater." She might have sat down to pour out her heart about this or that over a sherry at Christmastime, but it was never on a first name basis.

"We were never in each other's houses," says Mum B, firmly. "Being in" each other's houses might have led to something undefined, but undesirable--some kind of familiarity that went a step too far or wasted time. Everyone knew their place, it seems. In 1914, Robert Frost, wrote the poem, Mending Wall in which the narrator's neighbour says, "Good fences make good neighbours." Maybe there's something there. 

My mother, so different to her painfully shy introvert daughter,  broke through the invisible barrier between strangers un-selfconsciously. It always seemed as though others had just been waiting for someone to say something first, although I was always horrified when such a conversation began. "Oh, no," I would think, "here we go again." It's hard to imagine the restraint that surrounded us then, and the ordeal of "visits," in England when it was common to sit upright, in uncomfortable silence, as though someone had washed and starched our souls. 

But now, I am a privileged one. I am "in" her house, and we talk with abandon about everything and nothing. We laugh at nonsense and sigh over the state of the world. 

And as I left last Wednesday, having said how good it was to have another good talk. she said, with a look of slight guilt, "Oh, my, I have talked. I don't talk like this to anyone else!" Which may not be quite true, but I took it anyway, as a gift.

Comments

Marilyn Yocum said…
(sniff sniff) Tears. Just lovely.
And, ah, the difference made by simply turning and going the other way.
Belinda Burston said…
Dear Marilyn,
Your comment made me think of another Robert Frost poem--The Path Less Travelled!

"Two roads diverged in a wood and I - I took the one less traveled by,
and that has made all the difference."

Yes, dear friend, the difference was made in the course I set that day. It was a good one!

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