Good fences don’t always make good neighbors.
Mr. Peanut, who lived right down the street from me when I was child, had all kinds of fences.
He had fences made of boards.
He had fences made of chicken wire.
He even had electrical fences.
And even though he had all of these fences – the makings of a good neighbor, he was the meanest man I ever knew.
We couldn’t walk through his yard or even take our time walking along the road and paths near his yard.
We couldn’t retrieve our balls if they landed in his yard, garden, or anywhere he could reach it before we could.
We couldn’t have any of the plums, pomegranates, or pecans that fell from his trees, even if they fell outside his yard.
We couldn’t talk too loud when passing his house or when passing him on the street.
And we couldn’t take our time greeting him or call him Mr. Peanut to his face. If we did by mistake, he would promptly correct us. “My name is Mr. Charles.”
Violating any of these things that we weren’t supposed to do could turn this already mean man into a real meanie.
No one seemed to be able to get along with Mr. Peanut, not even my grandmother. Mr. Peanut’s inability to set horses with my grandmother was as true a sign as any that he was a descendant of Mr. Scrooge.
One day, when my brothers, cousins, and I were walking by Mr. Peanut’s house and made a mistake and stepped off the pavement onto the city’s right-of-way. A nanosecond later, Mr. Peanut appeared on his second-floor porch and yelled, “Get off my grass!”
My brother, Ken, who was always the “mouthy” one of the bunch, responded, “This ain’t your grass. This is the city’s land.”
“Tell you what,” Mr. Peanut shouted. “Keep standing on the city’s grass until I get there.”
My brothers and my cousins, never ones to run from a fight unless I ran, shouted back, “Come on. We’re waiting.”
I tried to get them to step back on the road, but they wouldn’t.
“I ain’t going nowhere,” Ken replied. “This is the city’s land.”
Then Tony threw in his two cents. “And ain’t nobody scared of Mr. Peanut but you.”
“I’m not scared of Mr. Peanut,” I shot back.
“You may not be scared now,” Mr. Peanut yelled, “but you will be.”
Mr. Peanut hobbled down his steps, picked up a stick as he tottered across his yard, then hurried as fast as his feet would carry him toward us.
Right before Mr. Peanut got within striking distance, I took off running. Then my brothers and cousins followed.
Mr. Peanut chased us all the way to our front yard.
When my grandmother came outside and asked what was happening, he responded before we could. “I come to whip them boys of yours behind.”
“No you didn’t,” my grandmother told him. “You can tell me what they did and if they were wrong, I’ll whip them. But you’re not.”
Mr. Peanut, never one to back down, responded, “If you’d like, you can take the whipping for them.”
My grandmother stood her ground. “Ain’t no fence holding you back,” she responded. “Come give it to me.”
Mr. Peanut was about to step into the yard to give my grandmother her whipping until he realized he had to cross a hastily erected fence of ten grandchildren to get to her.
Good fences don’t always make good neighbors, but that particular day, a good fence saved a mean neighbor.