Thorny Shrubs Make For Better Neighbors

The Jewish News
Debra Darvick

Debra Darvick

Send your questions to deardebra@renmedia.us.

Dear Debra,

My neighbor’s children use my backyard as their thoroughfare. And if that is not bad enough, recently the daughter came up and knocked on my window while I was watching TV. She scared the heck out of me.

I have asked the mother to speak to her children about boundaries and that I do not want them crossing my property again. And again, this evening, the mother and her son and dog went waltzing through my backyard as if they owned it.

Come fall I will plant shrubbery to limit access, but how does one deal with neighbors who have no regard for other people’s privacy?

— Noxious Neighbors

Dear Noxious Neighbors,

There is much wisdom in the old saw, “Good fences make good neighbors.” It’s a pity so many communities forbid them. Although you didn’t say, I wonder why these miscreants can’t get where they are going using the public spaces — as in the sidewalk or road — in front of your homes.

Since you’ve tried the polite route and gotten nowhere, can you turn on your sprinkler during the times they tend to trespass? Part of me would like to suggest turning a water cannon or super soaker on them, but I’ll override that impulse.

If you cannot install a fence, barbed wire or otherwise, your best bet is to do what you already plan — shrubbery that limits access. Try some blackberry shrubs. They form a dense thorny thicket which will deter your noxious neighbors and you can make jam with the berries. Or try a hedge of holly. The plant’s barbed leaves are no picnic in the park to brush up against. And then there is Pyracantha (Orange Glow) which will offer you defense and beauty. Not only does it have thorny stems, but it flowers white in June followed by beautiful clusters of bright orange-red berries. I wish you luck. There’s nothing worse than neighbors who are anything but neighborly.

Dear Debra,

A cousin moved back to town a few years ago after retiring and having lived on the other side of the country her entire adult life. I was very excited to have her back in town. My husband and I have invited her to our home for many occasions and because she doesn’t drive, he has also picked her up and brought her home each time. She always brings a hostess gift and sends a thank-you card, but she has never once reciprocated. You would think after all these years, she would have invited us for dinner in her home at least once. But no. What’s up with some people?

— Uninvited

Dear Uninvited,

Judaism values hachnasat orchim (hospitality to guests) so greatly that it is a mitzvah (commandment) to welcome guests into our homes. Abraham and Sarah are our first hospitality role models. Abraham sits at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day when he sees three men approaching. He runs to greet them, bows, offers to wash their feet and bring them a bit of bread. He then rushes to Sarah’s tent to have her prepare food for them and then goes and finds a calf to be prepared as well. (And remember, in the prior week’s portion Abraham had just circumcised himself!)

From these actions, we learn that we are to meet and welcome our guests and move with haste to make them feel comfortable and well fed. Interesting to note that while Abraham offered his visitors bread, he brought them a full meal. Had he offered bread, curds and meat they might have felt guilty for imposing. Nowhere do we read of Abraham’s expectations for a return invitation. This should tell us where we ought to focus when it comes to entertaining.

Entertaining doesn’t come easily to everyone. Many are downright phobic about having people over for a meal. Perhaps this is your cousin’s plight or perhaps she feels her home isn’t spacious enough or “fancy enough” to welcome guests. Maybe she’s a really terrible cook or her budget is too limited to reciprocate in equal measure to your invitations.

It’s a good bet she knows that she hasn’t reciprocated and she might even be uncomfortable about this, especially because she also depends on your husband for transportation to and fro. That she brings a hostess gift followed by a prompt thank you evidences her manners are strong even if her reciprocating muscle is not.

My Aunt Joycie, of blessed memory, was a terrific entertainer. Her tables were eclectically set, her meals were delicious, her New York City apartment was one of those comfy wonders filled with finds from auction houses and the occasional curb on trash day. But best of all was the way she greeted every one of her guests — a colorful flowered apron tied around her ample waist and bosom, a huge smile on her face and a voice that boomed her gratitude for our presence.

She bid us farewell in the same way, brushing aside our thanks with a fervent, “No, sweetheart. I thank you.” I never left feeling I had put her out or that she wanted anything in return from me but that I come again. This is also what we learn from Abraham — to be grateful for our visitors — that they chose our tent in which to rest their feet and have a bite to eat.

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