This past summer, the fellow and I embarked on a rather monumental DIY project. Over the course of 12 weekends, we transformed our weed-infested front yard into a landscaped, welcoming entrance to our home.
We had no fucking clue what we were doing. I still have no idea how we did it, but thank the stars for YouTube instructional videos.
In addition to a nice-looking lil front yard (and a racer-back tan that’s never going to go away), we also got an unforeseen benefit: WE KNOW WHO OUR NEIGHBORS ARE NOW.
It didn’t start off particularly well…
Over the first couple weekends, we ripped into our yard with a skidloader. We went from a pretty unremarkable piece of property to holy-hell-what-is-going-on-over-there. Our neighbors would pause on their walks to gawk. Exchange a few worried looks. And ask, “So… have you done this kind of thing before?”
As the weeks progressed, people would make a habit of stopping and commenting. “Looks like a lot of work.” “You guys are crazy.” “I would never do that.” “Why aren’t you paying someone to do this?”
One gentleman fell into a routine of walking his dogs past our place to stand at the edge of our drive, watch, and shake his head before moving on. It was not uncommon to see neighbors pull up a chair with a beer on their front porches. We were the coming attraction for our entire block.
When one is ankle deep in mud and wondering if you’ll ever not spend a weekend moving dirt and rock, morale is low.
Jer had to take me to the side once after I muttered too loudly, “The NEXT person who says ‘you’ve got a lot of work ahead of you…'”
Tempted as I was, I’m so grateful I never snapped. We refrained from carrying out (too many) loud disagreements in our front yard when the other just wasn’t fucking getting what was going on dammit. And slowly, our interactions with our neighbors changed.
When you’re out in your front yard from 8 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. every weekend, you notice the life patterns of the people who live around you.
A real estate agent who lived up the street would pause on his way home to yell out encouragement.
A man whose wife has difficulty leaving the house would tell us how they loved to watch the progress from their window.
A med student would shout, “Looking good!” as he would jog past.
Another guy offered us some cold beer one day.
A lady would stop to say, “You guys are amazing!” every time she drove by.
A super shy stay-at-home dad started to drop by occasionally for a chat.
One very awful day, I was sitting on our front steps, dripping with sweat and defeat. A young man walked up to our mud-filled driveway and said, “Need any help today?”
In stunned silence, we handed him a shovel.
Turns out, he was the son of the guy who would shake his head at us every day. Turns out he was a sous chef, bored on his day off. Turns out he worked alongside us for four hours until we called it quits for the day. Turns out he got blisters.
A few weeks ago, Jer and I looked at each other and said, “Was that it? Are we done? OMG we’re done!” Over a fancy dinner that night, we talked about all the people who heaped encouragement on us all summer long. How the comments went from, “Do you even know what you’re getting into?” to “This looks beautiful, guys!”
One of us mentioned it might be cool to thank everyone on the block for encouraging us through a very long, very public, very frustrating project.
So we bought some cheap, kiddie invitations at Target. Stuffed them in 20 mailboxes in the dead of night. And told people to show up at our house in two weeks if they wanted to check out our final project up close.
Guys. It was awesome. An incredibly cool reason to throw a house party, an awesome opportunity to cook for a lot of people, the perfect time to concoct a new playlist. We learned names. We found out who’s lived here for four decades. We discovered that the middle-aged mom next door plays a mean game of Magic: The Gathering. (WHUT. I KNOW RIGHT?)
When I walk out my front door these days, I see a new vegetable garden in my front yard. I see the lilac I transplanted from my family’s farm. And then I see Bill hanging out on his front porch up the street, and I see Ann walking her beagle, and I watch Harrison drive off to work.
I don’t recommend getting in over your head with a DIY project just to get to know the people you live next to, but damn. It’s a pretty cool bonus.