I bought this little house in Strawberry, Arizona, in 2002 with my then wife as a vacation home when we lived in Scottsdale. Even now, as it was then, it’s staggering to think of the adult responsible idea of owning two homes.

I’m sure it was one of our early trips up here, working outside when I heard a deep voice boom, “Well Howdy, neighbor.”

That was my first encounter with Jack.

His place was next to ours, and after a good firm handshake, he was asking about us, and then telling us his stories of building his house in the mid 1970s. It was a “kit” home, a mode called O’Malley Easy Do, delivered in parts. He told his that the people who built my house, from the same O’Malley Easy Do kit. He told stories of a bear taking a cooler off of their porch, of his dog chasing a mountain lion.

Jack was one of those quintessential old time ranch type Arizona men, cut from cowboy cloth even if not one. Buzz haircut under a cowboy hat, face creased and tanned from years of doing outdoor physical work, mostly quiet, but always warmed with a smile, eager to share stories. If I remember correctly, he fought in World War II (or was it Korea?) and after the war, his career was spent as a technician for APS, the Electrical Company. He had a workshop/garage with almost 3 of every tool, which he would eagerly lend. He had the classic old truck.

His daughter told me recently how much Jack enjoyed talking with me. She suggested part of it was that with 3 daughters and a wife, he had little male companionship. It was easy to converse with Jack; he had that first hand connection to a way of life, a fix it yourself attitude, that is rare now.

On that first meeting, Jack asked about my work (check, that’s what men do, we identify by what we do). When I told him I worked for the district office of community college system, he said, “Maybe you know my son-in-law, Jim, he teaches at Glendale Community College.” I thought the odds slim, since GCC was the second largest Maricopa school, but when he mentioned his last time, I smile. “Yes, I know Jim. I work with him.”

Jack’s first wife passed away years before (they were nice enough to let me dig up a few of Adele’s irises, colors I do not have); his current wife Marie was her closest friend, she a widower, and maybe they were together out of comfort. That sounds kind of old fashioned, but sweet.

Over the next 8 years, we would always chat, often in that space between our houses, where there was a line but not a line. With increasing health issues, and moving between the 3 houses they owned, I saw Jack less and less. He talked of how much he regretted not being at his Strawberry home.

Jack did not mind at all in 2008 when I asked if it was okay to join a fence on a new vegetable garden to the one he built that ran the edge of our property.

In fact, I was never quite sure where the property line ran between our homes; and it did not really matter much to either of us. This was such a refreshing change from living in Phoenix, where everyone seems to wall on their backyards, where I had neighbors I never knew by name or conversed with. Neighbors that are strangers, that’s the city life.

I was quite sad during my cross country road travels in 2011 when Jim texted me the news that Jack had passed away.

Having retired last year, Jim and his wife had some thoughts of fixing up the old family place, but decided to sell since they have land on the other side of town. They did well, and the place sold quickly, it’s in closing now.

Suddenly the line is important. There are stakes with pink flags at the upper and lower ends of their property.

I’ve not met the new buyers. I hope they are nice. I’d like to be the kind of neighbor that Jack was to me.

But last week I heard from Jim. They closing is delayed with an issue of the septic tank as well as something written on a paper as “a neighbors encroachment” on the property. That would be me. Call me “Encroacher.”

I don’t dispute that there is a chance a bit of my garden, a storage piece I built for firewood, and a compost pile might be a few inches over the line. I had assumed for years that the fence that Jack built was on the line.

And I do not meant to be a problem for Jim and his wife, and am willing to move my stuff. I went out to look at it yesterday to see what this might involve.

I’d have to dig up a few plants in my garden, move the block walls. Move the palettes of my compost bin. Empty the firewood container, and move it maybe 3 inches over. I won’t argue it if that’s where the line is and it’s important.

But I am looking at that single stake marker.

Do you remember in geometry how many points you need to determine a line? Hint, it is more than one.

You cannot even see the other marker, so it’s not even clear where the line is between our properties. And to top that, at the lower end of the property, the corner of their water meter is maybe 2 inches on my side, as well as the drain line for the water supply.

I have no plans to demand that it be moved.

The line does not matter at all to me.

But still…

This is hardly any way to start a neighborly relationship. I would have appreciated they had come over and talked to me first, rather than communicating a demand through realtor pages and my current neighbors.

No “Howdy, neighbor!”

I don’t think they make too many neighbors anymore like Jack. I might aspire to be like him. It should not be hard.

The world needs less Jerks and more Jacks.

Top / Featured Image: flickr photo by me https://flickr.com/photos/cogdog/29100654805 shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

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An early 90s builder of web stuff and blogging Alan Levine barks at CogDogBlog.com on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person. And he is 100% into the Fediverse (or tells himself so) Tooting as @cogdog@cosocial.ca


  1. Well, that is such a nice story to read, and about the nice Jacks and Jims. Plus, Adeles and Irises.

    You can do a search on my True Friends Index and see if your new neighbours are listed there, because if they are, then things will be okay. Because True Friends.

    Also, because you are one, then they will learn to be nice.

    Or you can get me to visit them.

  2. I hope your new neighbors are nice. It’s hard to say if it’s them or their agent making an issue about the property line. Maybe they didn’t find anything else wrong and had to complain about something!

    We just had several neighbors move out and the foreclosed house across the street finally sold. Seems like younger people are moving in. I’m hoping they’ll be cool and have nice dogs!

  3. My guts says this is the work of lawyers, brought in for the legal change of title. Handshakes between neighbours are good for as long as the neighbours live there. Once the lawyers are unleashed, all Is must be crossed, all Ts dotted. Mortgage company probably requires it, as would insurance company. They may still be good neighbours – all likely out of their hands. They couldn’t stop the process without jeopardizing the sale.

  4. I think D’Arcy is right.
    This is also what happens when we invite the market ever more deeply into our lives.

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