The Robert Frost quote almost everyone knows is, "Good fences make good neighbors."
Ironically, while most people know the quote, few people understand its context. Most think it means that in order to get along with your neighbor, you should be separated by a solid fence, but that isn't it. Instead, the poem was about the narrator and his neighbor rebuilding their adjoining stone wall together, the building of that wall with each other being a bonding, neighborly act. The poem's name, "The Mending Wall," clearly alludes to this.
As a kid, I liked almost all my neighbors, but there was a couple across the street I would've liked to have separated from us with the Great Wall of China.
Their name was Ferdun - his name was Norman and I never knew hers. They were a perfect couple: Each was as mean spirited as the other, and they were lovingly united in their hatred of children. Keep in mind, this was back in the '50s when the Baby Boom was booming: Children were pretty much everywhere, all the time, so the Ferduns could indulge in their infantiphobia 24-7 if they wanted which I've no doubt they did.
Why they were like that is anyone's guess. They were childless, but that wasn't it, because all the other childless couples or unmarried people in the neighborhood were nice to us. In fact, Mrs. Ferdun's sister was Mrs. Gardiner, and both she and her husband were always wonderfully sweet and kind.
No matter what caused their rottenness, it was there. A perfect example: If we were playing and a ball landed on their postage stamp lawn, he'd run out, grab it, and refuse to give it back ever.
Of course, he was an adult and we were little kids, so there was nothing we could do about it. At the time, because he was a grown-up, I didn't realize he was just a bully. I thought bullying stopped in high school, which just lets you know how nave I was.
The thing with bullies is they only pick on people they know they can beat. Essentially, they're cowards, but as long as they pick on someone who's a sure thing, they keep their egos inflated and their perfect win-loss record intact. The only problem is if their inflated ego gets too big, at some point they're going to pick on someone who isn't a sure thing, and when they do, their perfect win-loss record is no more. Matter of fact, neither is their inflated ego.
And true to form, this is exactly what happened to good ole Norman.
Ya gotta know when to fold 'em
Norman's target was a kid named Jack Alexander. Even as a kid, Jack had a jaundiced view of his fellow man. He didn't like very many people, he often had a sneer plastered on his mug, and even when he laughed, it was more out of sarcasm than joy.
But he never acted out very much. Nonetheless, a certain rage always seemed to simmer under his surface. It was only with Norman Ferdun as the catalyst that Jack's rage went from simmering to boiling.
It happened the summer Jack turned 16. And he hadn't added only one year - he'd added about a foot in height, and due to working construction, about 60 pounds of solid muscle. To us, he was huge and menacing, and he should have been the same to Ferdun. Unfortunately, Ferdun, still thought of him as the little pisher he'd been pushing around for the last decade.
On the day of the blessed event, Jack was dumping wheelbarrowfuls of brush and leaves in an empty lot next to Ferdun's place where everyone dumped their brush and leaves. On each trip back to his house, Jack went through a lot between his house and Ferdun's. Ferdun owned it, but it was untended and overgrown, the only sign of civilization being a path up the middle that we all used as a shortcut, and that Jack had been wheeling the barrow through. For reasons known only to Ferdun, he decided Jack was not going to make one more trip through the lot, so he ran up to him and told not to do it.
Jack said, "Yep. Ah-huh," as if in agreement and kept walking toward the lot.
Ferdun again told him not to do it; again, Jack answered, "Yep. Ah-huh," continuing on his way.
This exchange went on until Jack actually got into the lot, at which point, Ferdun realized it was put-up-or-shut-up time. Unfortunately for him, he put up.
He clamped on the front wheel of the barrow with both hands and tried to yank it out of Jack's hands. The wheelbarrow, by the way, was not some dinky little number. It was a huge steel one, the kind used on commercial construction sites. It could, if swung fast enough, hit some serious G-forces. And that's exactly what happened, when Jack whipped it 180 degrees, with Ferdun attached.
The effect was astounding. Ferdun, who only seconds before was upright, was suddenly horizontal, swinging on that vicious pivot. Then he was flying. Jack hadn't thrown Ferdun; he'd launched him!
Ferdun reached the peak of his trajectory, hung there for a l-o-o-o-ong moment, and then gravity took over and he plunged down. He hit the ground, sending up a mushroom cloud of dirt and debris, and then rolled to a stop about 20 feet away.
Jack picked out the wheelbarrow and went on his way.
Ferdun dusted himself off, ran after Jack, and once again grabbed the front wheel.
Once again, Jack fired him off into the wild blue yonder, and once again, he crash landed in the weeds.
Ferdun got up - this time slowly and shakily - and stumbled after Jack, who was now walking out of the lot, whistling the theme from The Bridge Over The River Kwai. Ferdun reached for the wheel yet again, and as he bent over, Jack, now bored with Flying Ferdun Act, went for a change-of-pace and booted him in the ribs. Ferdun dropped to his knees and stayed there, dirty, disheveled, defeated having lost all his dignity, hoping only to regain his breath.
At this moment, Jack's mother, Midge, blasted out of their screen door as if shot from a cannon.
Midge, not as the name implies, a small woman. She was big - big in height, weight and breadth, but as my mother said, "light on her feet." She was also mean as a snake. Beyond that, she had a sense of fair play uniquely her own, as she immediately demonstrated.
She flew up to the lot and loomed over Ferdun, who was still kneeling, still trying to breathe.
"Norman Ferdun, you oughta be ashamed of yourself," she snarled. "A grown man picking on a young boy!"
Then she added a line I've never forgotten.
" The nerve!" she said, "Why, if I weren't a good Christian, I'd have you arrested and thrown in jail!"
Then she and Jack walked back to their house, Midge shaking her head in outrage, Jack smiling like the cat that swallowed the canary.