Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Families' Feud

In my post about The Woods, I referred to the on-again off-again feud between my parents and the neighbors. Largely it was a feud between my father and the man of the other house. My parents tended to trace the ill will back to their purchase of the house from the man’s sister and her husband. I think I’d heard it said that Don didn’t know his sister was selling the house until it was a done deal, though that seems unlikely. I don’t know a thing about the relationship between the siblings, but what I do know is this: they built houses next to each other, with Don owning most of the land, and then the sister sold her house and ¾-acre and moved into the nearby town. Doesn’t it suggest a strained relationship between them, perhaps starting with the hope of close family ties between them, that they might live out their lives as neighbors, but ending with one—the one with less property, likely even a lot cut out of the other’s land holding—moving not hundreds of miles away but far enough not to be neighbors any more, far enough, perhaps it was hoped, not to be in her brother’s shadow.

Be that as it may, relations were not always hostile between our families. Not by a long shot. But they got pretty strained for a number of years, and the cause of that was that my father built a garage on the corner of our property. The issue was a dispute over the property line and whether my father’s new garage crossed it. As it turned out, an official survey concluded that the garage was wholly on our property, though just barely. If it had been over the property line, it couldn’t have been more than a few inches or feet across the line, and we’re talking about a few feet out of acres and acres that he owns, we’re talking about a few feet that are perhaps a hundred yards from their house and into land that was never, ever used for any purpose. Seriously. He didn’t even mow it, which is all he did with most of his land, because there were trees right there and the grass didn’t grow. It was, in short, a ridiculous feud, which would have been fairly ridiculous even if my father hadn’t been in the right. But the whole thing didn’t fail to generate hard feelings, even when it was officially resolved.

I guess that’s the way with these things. While they may, materially, be about questions of fact, they end up being something else—questions of ego, questions of emotion, questions of me vs. you rather than the of the truth vs. error.

I said earlier that relations were not always hostile. For some years, we celebrated the 4th of July together; one year, Don had a huge party for the whole neighborhood as well as for the members of the church they attended, and we were invited as well; for a few years, we were invited to use some of their land as a garden, right alongside their own garden. And, finally, the feud came to an end when my father was diagnosed with cancer. When life and death became the issue, they became good neighbors, and for all the years since then and since my father died, they have been the best of neighbors.

This was not, after all, the Hatfields and the McCoys or the Shepherdsons and Grangerfords, just a couple men with a ridiculous quarrel.

1 comment:

  1. At first I was going to pontificate about how hard it is to let an argument go when you know you're right--but then I thought again about it. Your father may have thought (rightly) that a garage partly straddling properties would obfuscate and potentially tie up the property in litigation when either was sold or willed to the next generation. Old English law (upon which our legal system is based) upholds custom and usage as having legal status. In that light, maybe your father was right to get it settled before the usage became customary.