Mrs. Dim and I had a disagreement this weekend. I described it to Dwayne at City Hall as a difference of opinion; it could easily have been called a shouting match. I did not intend to shout at Mrs. Dim. In fact, I had not planned on speaking to her at all. When she began shouting insults at me, though, I found myself raising my voice to be heard.
This year Mrs. Dim is paying a young man to mow her yard (giving her more time, I guess, to play with her leaf blower). He had already mowed twice this year when I was not at home, and his mowing had taken him far across the property line into my bed of wildflowers. I was glad to be at home this time as he was working, so when he was ready to mow outside Mrs. Dim’s fence, I went over and introduced myself. “I’m J.,” I said, and “I’m Scott,” he answered, and we shook hands. I showed him where the corner of my property is—the surveyor’s stake is still there, pushed deep into the ground—and indicated the landmarks to follow that line to the other corner of Mrs. Dim’s yard. Scott was very attentive, and even after I went back inside he was careful to mow only to the line and not as far as he had mowed earlier this year.
Poor Scott, though, found himself in the middle of neighborly squabbling. Even before I had the chance to introduce myself, Mrs. Dim was already shouting, “Go back in your house, J.,” and, “A real Christian wouldn’t do what you’re doing, J.” She also shouted, “This is why nobody likes you, J.” She openly acknowledged that she had instructed Scott to cut my weeds. I tried to get Mrs. Dim to tell me what the word weed means—I was hoping to establish that a weed is an unwanted plant, so I could say that native wildflowers are not unwanted in my lawn, even if they are unwanted in hers. Instead, she only pointed at my wildflowers and shouted, “That’s a weed,” leading me to handle the daisy-like bloom gently and answer (in as loud a voice as hers, I regret to say), “This… is a flower.”
Scott handled the situation well, mowing along the property line and then over to Mrs. Dim’s fence. I went inside, hoping the problem was over for the time being. After Scott left, Mrs. Dim played her radio in her garage at top volume for about half an hour to show her displeasure—surprisingly childish behavior for a woman who is nearing seventy years old. I put on a Schubert CD and kept the windows closed and was able to survive her tantrum unharmed.
This morning I called City Hall to verify that I have the right to raise wildflowers on my property. I indicated that they are the same kind of wildflowers that the state’s highway department encourages along the highways. Dwayne said that, of course, I’m allowed to grow native wildflowers on my own property, although he was unwilling to put that statement into writing for me. Instead, he said that if my neighbor is coming onto my property and cutting down my plants, I should either call the police or hire an attorney.
I think I handled the situation as well as was possible for me. With my battles with anxiety, confrontations are difficult for me. Although she has not taken the time to get to know me, Mrs. Dim knew how to make her insults stick in my head. I have had to remind myself repeatedly that people do like me—at work, at church, where I teach, and lots of places. It’s only Mrs. Dim who doesn’t like me.
People have asked me why I don’t just talk to Mrs. Dim when I have a problem with her—when her prolonged leaf-blowing is getting on my nerves, for example. This episode, I think, verifies what I already suspected. Mrs. Dim cannot be approached calmly and reasonably. The better approach for both of us is for me to maintain a healthy distance. With any luck, someday soon she will relocate to a retirement community where they will let her play with the leaf blower as much as she wants, and I won’t know anything about it. J.