Robert Frost had his Mending Wall. I have my Friendship Fence.
It was a simple proposition, to start with. My neighbors needed a new fence. They knew I knew a good fence guy. They also knew that my fence guy’s English is not so much, and their Spanish is not much more. Could I please facilitate?
As a professional translator, I could hardly say no. I didn’t want to say no, anyway. I liked my neighbors (Dan and Dana) and my fence guy (Carlos), and if a little fence post interpreting would help them both, why not? When I called Carlos to ask him for a quote, we took the opportunity to discuss the new fence I was budgeting for later this summer. Dan and Dana accepted his quote. A start date was set and all was well.
Or so it seemed.
The day after the fence posts were committed to cement, Dan learned of a new city ordinance about fences on corner lots. Theirs was a corner lot.
Dan called me. He was on his way to work but wasn’t sure Carlos would see the revised drawing taped to the patio door. Could I please go over and make sure? Of course I would.
Carlos had indeed seen the drawing but thought it was incorrect. Would I please call Dan? No problem.
Dana's mother called. While I was figuring out the drawing, could I also ask Carlos if he was using treated wood? Sure.
Dan called back. The drawing had been done using the city’s guidelines.
Carlos called. If the drawing was right, he would have to move a couple of the posts he’d sunk into cement the day before. And the wood didn’t need to be treated yet.
I left a message for Dan about the posts.
Dana's mother called again; please ignore the question about treated wood. I gave her the answer anyway.
Dan called back. Please have Carlos stop everything until they could figure this out.
I walked next door for the umpteenth time and awkwardly gave Carlos the news. While I felt bad that he and his crew would lose a day's work, the sudden respite was welcome. Jobs were piling up on my desk and I desperately needed peace and quiet in which to catch up.
Twenty minutes later, I was deep in translation when a loud clattering echoed through my back yard.
Then I heard yelling – the kind of yelling people do when they’re trying to be heard over the sound of power tools.
When the hammering started, I got up to see what was going on. Stepping outside, I was greeted with a new fence in the making.
A new fence around my yard.
Carlos came over, grinning. “I promised my crew work for today,” he said. “You can pay me later.”
Dan and Dana and Carlos got things figured out the next day and by the end of the week we both had new fences. As we stood between our houses, laughing over the back-and-forth, I realized it was the most time we’d spent together since they moved in. After living next door to each other for 15 months, it took a pair of fences, a language barrier and a city ordinance to make us really neighbors.
Dan and Dana have moved away. It turns out the new fence was the last thing on their list before putting the house on the market.
I just wish it hadn’t been the first thing that made us connect.