There goes the neighbourhood

“Mamaaa! Maaa-maaa! Maaaaa!” his thin, sharp cry carried through the screen door, sieved into mosquito sized pieces and scattered through twelve back yards. Deck doors clunked closed, but I was in my back garden listening to wind chimes, which I swear his sound waves agitated, and I wanted to be outside.chimes

“Darius!” his mother yelled. “Stop whining! Do you hear anyone else behaving like you? Just stop!”

I went inside and closed the door. I could still hear the caterwauling.  I wanted to invite them both over to listen to the chimes but I didn’t.
I hung the chimes about a week ago. They’ve been in my garage for 23 years. I bought them to remember my mother who died 24 years ago. She loved wind chimes and bells and tinkley doo-dahs, and hung them among her flower baskets on her small porch. Recently, on a trip to Vancouver, I found a clay bell which reminded me of her at a pottery sale so I bought it, brought it home and hung it from my back deck. That was when I remembered the other banished chimes stored in the garage all those years ago because my husband said they’d disturb the neighbours with their clanging and clamouring. Being new to the ‘hood, I agreed not to hang them. Heaven forbid I should offend the neighbours.

In the intervening years I’ve listened to human soundscapes as broad as, well, humanity. When we first moved in one of my favourite places was the small back deck overlooking the back yard. I liked to – still like to – sit there, sip my morning cuppa and watch the sun crawl over the neighbours roofs in the morning.

Several weeks after moving in, the neighbours to the left were up as early as me and the sound of their broad swords gongalating at 6:30 a.m. scared the beejeebers out of me. A six foot tall Amazon wearing a bikini swung one of the swords. This same woman, we later learned, invaded other people’s backyards to mow their lawns – without asking. When asked politely to hold the noise both early and late, she became verbally abusive and called our adopted children “Rent-a-kids”. For the next two years she hurled figurative swords at me anytime she saw me on the deck. The happiest day of my life as a homeowner was when she packed up her swords and parrot – for God’s sake she had a parrot –  and left.Planters

Next to that house and directly behind us were a couple whose fights chipped bricks and mortar and corroded pipes. His vocabulary blighted the blooms of May and hers scorched the grass. He died a few years ago. She seems happier now.

“Creepy man” lived where Darius and his mom live currently He had a 500″ flat screen t.v. and favoured action movies watched at maximum volume. Because he didn’t have air conditioning, his back deck windows and curtains were open all summer long. I could sit on my back deck and watch the movie if I wanted but I didn’t because the other thing he liked to do was stand naked in his window and masturbate. I hung bamboo curtains and wove a canvas screen through the railings of the deck.


Two doors down, the dad occasionally raises his voice – usually at 2 a.m. – when angry. The volume penetrates our double pane bedroom windows when closed.

Two weeks ago, after twenty three years, I finally hung the wind chimes I bought in remembrance of my mother, the neighbours be damned. In about three weeks I’ll be 60 years old. In addition to hanging the chimes, after 24 years of dreaming about making the back garden a wee oasis, it became a reality this summer. I retreat to it in the morning before anyone wakes up, coffee in hand and listen to the chimes. They don’t clang even in a strong breeze. Tucked into a corner, protected by the fence on one side and the back of the house on the other, they whisper to one another. Although I can’t recall the sound of my mother’s voice anymore, the chimes make me think of her and the quiet conversations we had when, as an adult, I traveled home to visit every year.

Mother would have listened to her husband’s advice, too, because that’s what women did in her day. But part of me likes to imagine she’d approve of this small act of rebellion and that after 25 years of keeping quiet it is my turn to give everyone something to listen to. oasis


35 thoughts on “There goes the neighbourhood

  1. Ohh, what a pretty corner! And terrible neighbours. I’m glad you decided to hang them up and make yourself happy. I had some in my previous home but not in this one. Also, I’m not quite sure how you do it, but nothing I’ve read from under your fingers has corresponded to the age of 60. Not that you’re not wise, of course. Your writing voice is just short of 40, I’d say. A bit younger than me. Anyway, the party must be and it must be big. I’ll cin cin along happily. ❤

    • I don’t feel wise, my dear M. Considering my considerable errors in life I ought to be a Buddha by now but I’m a long way from that. Maybe its the influence of my your adult children that contribute to my junior writing voice?! anyway, thank you for the wonderful compliment. It rang my chimes!

  2. Amazon Woman sounds like she was terrifying. Glad she is no longer a horror in your neighbourhood. After reading this post, I’m grateful for my relatively quiet neighbourhood. I suspect we might be considered the “noisy” house in our neighbourhood since we are the only ones who actually use our backyard.

    Your backyard retreat looks like a beautiful oasis to sit and contemplate life. Stay rebellious and let your chimes sing 🙂

    • Amazon woman was terrifying! I recall that shortly after she started harassing me, W5 did a show on bad neighbours and she was right up there and we could have been on that episode.

      I think the chimes may get louder after I hit 60.

      • NO!! Really?! That’s both scary and awesome at the same time.

        Happy, happy 60th. I have to admit I wasn’t in a happy place when I turned 60 and I’m still struggling with the idea of being a junior senior. It’s a bit of a struggle when the inside person doesn’t match the outside one. I want to know what happened to the last 20 years!

  3. Oh, my, you’ve reminded me why I’m glad to live in the country. (And who doesn’t like a good wind chime? Crazy talk!) Not that we don’t have some perfectly awful neighbors. We do, including some who like nothing better than to shoot off guns for hours on end on the weekends. But at least we don’t have to encounter them except for the occasional index-finger-raised-off-the-steering wheel “country wave” when we accidentally pass each other on the road!

  4. I think I’ve been lucky with my neighbours! They’re certainly not perfect, but they’re not on the same scale as yours 🙂 So I loved that you finally hung the chimes and I hope you enjoy their whispering for many years to come.

    • The people who live right next door to us are THE best neighbours and across the street I have a gardening buddy who I adore so they’re not all bad that’s for sure.

      I’m already enjoying the chimes immensely. When the upper back deck door is open I can hear them quietly talking to the hostas.

  5. I must confess I tensed up reading your back-to-back, condensed account. I’m glad to read in the comments that these neighbourly assaults (hyperbole, maybe, but I’m sticking with my choice of wording) were over the course of 25 years. I’d be frantic if they were a daily occurrence!

    I’ve lived in the suburbs most of my life, so I know that you learn to tune out lawn mowers and radios and kids shrieking in the swimming pools. That sort of back drop comes with the territory and it is welcome, really. It signifies all is well in the neighbourhood. But the stuff you describe, while also typical of life in the ‘burbs, are the signs that life is out of balance. You need an antidote for that. Chime away, my dear.

    • When the sword-wielding parrot woman lived behind us I was frantic. I couldn’t go into the back yard or back deck for 3 years. She was 6′ tall and completely unhinged and would stand in her back yard yelling up at our kitchen window. It was terrifying.

      We’ve lived here a long time and seen folks come and go and so know nothing is permanent in the neighbour department. As long as I keep my balance, it’s all good and the chimes add a sweet meditative air to our little world. Chiming on, Maggie.

    • Mostly, its pretty calm but that doesn’t make for a good story! Right now the main distraction is Darius and his mom and mostly I feel sympathy for one or both.

  6. Blimey-O’Riley them’s some neighborhood tales!! I am so glad that you have rebelled and that you can find tranquility in your oasis surrounded by the gentle reminder of your mother still with you and, I suspect smiling at your push back and break out of the conformity that she, I am certain felt she had to abide by.

    • To be fair, the tales cover 25 years of living here but you’re right. We do have more than our share of fringe-folks. The chimes were clanging last night as we endured yet another deluge and I thought they added a merry tune to the end of days bombardment of H2O.

      • I spent last night in an hotel in Champagne with accompanying raucous French variants on your theme in the alleyway beneath my window … the attendant deluge would have been welcome as I had to have the window open to dry my hand rinsed undies having entirely failed to pack the necessary spares….

  7. I remember a neighbour directly behind you Sue if I recall correctly she had good taste in music I believe it was a Lyle Lovett song I heard. Hope she wasn’t the parrot lady…. it is about time you rebelled a little after all these years! Audrey and I like wind chimes too ours are bamboo. This was a nice tribute to you mother Sue I’m sure she would have approved!

    • That was one and the same neighbour, Jean. She was WACKO despite her good taste in music. My mom had some bamboo chimes, too! I’ll have to find some. I’ve decided I’m going to hang a variety of clangers out back. Screw the neighbours!

    • The parrot’s name was Albert and he flew away once. She was on the local TV news wailing about her damn bird. He was found and returned, poor thing. Yes, I’m a wild and crazy rebel!

  8. I love your new garden oasis. It’s lovely. I can imagine many cuppas are happily consumed there.
    My mother also loves windchimes. I must confess, I don’t. It’s not that there’s anything unpleasant about a set of windchimes, but rather, an amalgamation of everyone’s too many windchimes does me in when I’m trying to sleep there. (Rare, and for good reason.) The purpose for which you bought yours and hung them makes them infinitely more charming, and I find it endearing.
    I’ve never had your kind of neighbors, but I’ve had unpleasant versions of my own. I’m glad the sword-wielding parrot-keeper left, in particular.

    • Sometimes I simply sit and stare into middle space or at the squirrels swinging like circus performers from the cherry tree. The craziness they get up to to get their little paws on a cherry is fun to watch. I think I understand your “too much noise” feeling towards chimes, especially on a windy night. There’s a kind of Stephen King quality about it that makes you stare at the light around the bedroom door frame watching for shadows.

  9. Oh yes! Neighbours can be a trial, but the sound of wind chimes is always a pleasure to listen to. I have some in my tiny courtyard, but their gentle sound is so often wiped out by the tantrums of the successive children of the neighbour-over-the-back who has no parenting skills and who resorts to adult questions and conversations and when that fails, bribes. I usually turn my music up loud and allow them to share in whatever choices Spotify feels like delivering me randomly on that particular day.

    Twenty three years is a long time to be a ‘good neighbour’ and I applaud your gentle rebellion 🙂

    • I’ve been thinking about your light catchers, Pauline, and how one might be a pretty addition hanging from a low branch of the cherry tree above my tiny hosta garden.

      Darius’ mother has no parenting skills and no compunction about the lack, leaving all windows and doors open for all of us to hear her ineptitude. I think retaliating with Spotify is a terrific idea!

      • Yay for Spotify (and other related musical operations)! I am delighted to hear you are thinking of a light catcher for your cherry tree….. You know I don’t specifically make them for outside use but would love to have the opportunity for someone to be prepared to trial one for me. There’s a couple hanging around here doing nothing much (except make rainbows when the opportunity arises) if you’d like me to send you one. All you’d have to do is monitor it’s response to being in the elements and let me know how it goes and what you think. Email me if interested.

        • I think I’d only leave it outdoors in late spring thru early fall but I’d be tickled to test your product by hanging it from one of the lower branches on our backyard cherry tree. I’ll email you asap! Thanks for such a wonderful offer, Pauline.

"The river flows both ways." (Margaret Laurence)

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