Neighborly Behavior

Written By: Susan  Walker-Spring

There are advantages to living in Sag Harbor Village. Our kids can ride their bikes to town and walk to the beach. We have no trouble getting to (and more importantly leaving) the 4th of July fireworks show at Haven’s Beach. Then of course there are the beautiful old homes, the friendly year-round residents, the general happiness of small-town living that is unique to Sag Harbor of all the East End villages. It’s a nice place to live.

There are some other aspects of village life. Properties here tend to be measured in square feet rather than in acres. As a result, we village dwellers live relatively close to our neighbors. Our family has never had a problem with this state of affairs. The house to the west of us is occupied by a kind animal lover who works at ARF in East Hampton and who is quite tolerant of our beagle’s occasionally bad behavior. The house to the east of us is a rental; over the years there have been a string of tenants living there, all pretty nice people. There was the sushi chef (good excuse to stroll into town and have a nice meal at Sen – as if we needed one).   There was the single mother who graciously endured the mayhem of our August 2013 backyard wedding. The trouble with this neighboring house lies not with its occupants but rather with its driveway, more specifically, the fact that we share it. It seems likely that once upon a time our properties belonged to one owner, who subsequently subdivided it into two parcels of land. The apron part of the driveway is all ours; the neighboring house has an easement to enter their parking strip. I never thought of this set-up as much of a problem, until we put our house on the market (you can’t plan on sending your kids to high school in Riverhead without at least a passing thought to moving just a little bit closer). It seems that every prospective buyer wanted to know, “What’s with the driveway?” “People don’t want to share anything,” our agent told us. I guess.

As I have said, I don’t mind this shared space. It has enabled me to develop a utilitarian way of parking that involves swinging into the driveway, heading toward the neighboring house, and then backing toward ours. This parking dance offers me two distinct advantages; one, I avoid having to back out of our driveway when leaving. Doing so is particularly important on our street, where drivers careen around bends in the road, blatantly disregarding the “Historical District, speed limit 25 mph” signs. Pulling out forward increases the likelihood that I will see these people coming and (hopefully) evade them. Two, it eases the unloading of the massive amounts of weekly groceries required to keep our four insatiable pre-teens fed. In addition to meeting my needs, the generous size of our shared driveway allows our basketball ‘court’ to include a three-point line, which has become increasingly important to the 7th grade boys in the family. All in all, we’re OK with it, prospective buyers notwithstanding.

Beyond the driveway lies more trouble: our backyard, complete with an unobstructed view of our neighbor’s yard. Minimal privacy, which of course bothered prospective buyers to no end. Perhaps everyone has something to hide? We really don’t, so when we landscaped and removed a bunch of dead brush and trees, we decided to plant nothing atop the beautiful stone dividing wall we created. We like our yard, and we don’t mind seeing that of our neighbors, either.

My aunt, who has a habit of committing random acts of extreme kindness (there’s a reality show I’d actually watch) did so one Saturday morning while I was at work. “Zsash is here with a table and chairs, an umbrella, and some plates and cups,” my daughter’s text read. “Oh, and a pineapple.” A teak table, six chairs and a bench, a multicolor striped umbrella, and a complete table setting were beautifully displayed on our back deck when I arrived home. The old green metal table and four matching chairs that we outgrew when we blended our family were placed unceremoniously on the grass just past the deck. On the Thursday of 4th of July weekend, I was enjoying our new seating accompanied by a good book and a nice glass of wine, when the new next-door tenants walked into their backyard. We exchanged some pleasantries (relatively intimately, as only about five feet separated us). “Wish we had a place to sit back here,” one of them mused. There was no way they were going shopping for teak on a holiday weekend in the Hamptons. I considered our old table and chairs. In short order they were positioned in their new home behind our grateful neighbor’s house. For three subsequent days and evenings, we sat in our respective backyards, eating, drinking, talking and laughing, sometimes among the guests at our own table, and sometimes across the yard with each other. “Good morning,” we said over coffee. “Smells good,” about each other’s barbequed dinners. “Have a good night,” when heading in to bed. Our neighbors were so grateful, one of them gave me a bottle of Wolffer estate Cabernet Franc as a thank you. “Having the table and chairs made our weekend,” she said. How did she know red was my favorite? Personal observation, of course.

The owner of this house next door is sick of our shared driveway. He thinks it’s an eyesore. Two weeks ago, he tore up his part, planted sod, and created a separate drive on the other side of his property. We hear he’s planning on putting up privacy shrubs as well. I know that’s not really odd behavior: apparently people in the Hamptons value their privacy, and he’ll probably charge (and get) more money from the next tenants who move in. Despite the obligatory change in parking strategy and basketball rules, our family will likely appreciate the seclusion as well. Who knows whether the next tenants will be as friendly as the current ones, and if we ever get serious about selling our house the shrubs will clearly be an asset. I feel blessed to have had this summer encounter, though. It seems like something old fashioned and fitting for this small town: getting to know your neighbors. It was fun.

The hedge isn’t up yet. Each time I see our neighbors sitting at that green metal table, I wave, raise my glass, and smile.