Biff America: Fences make good neighbors (column)
Dave Drew had only two tasks to accomplish while his parents left him home alone for the week of their Cape Cod vacation. Mow the lawn and keep Rex from eating Itty-Bit.
Dave was to be a high school senior, Rex was his spotted large mutt, and Itty-Bit was an elderly white toy poodle owned by their neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Haskell.
Bob and Jean Haskell were part of the first wave of gentrification to move to the South Shore of Boston in the late ‘70s. Retirees and successful white color families were relocating to former blue collar enclaves like Canton, Easton and Bridgewater located conveniently between Boston and ‘The Cape.’
Dave Drew was the oldest of 8 children raised by Bob and Mary Drew. They lived in a sprawling home with random, hastily added additions to accommodate the growing clan. When Mary wasn’t in labor she was a nurse. Bob was a dock worker, a voracious reader and raconteur. I worked with him during my summer job of loading trucks. He was a great man and wonderful story teller.
The Drews sprawling compound was located in a working-class neighborhood — Rex had the run of the place. The Haskells bought an older home next door, leveled it and started from scratch and built a beautiful house.
Bob Drew didn’t begrudge his new upscale neighbors. When he wasn’t working, making babies or adding on to his home, he enjoyed talking U.S. history with Mr. Haskell who was a retired college professor. By all reports the Haskells enjoyed and respected the proletariat intellectual next door. The problem was that mutt named Rex.
Rex was a digger. This wasn’t a problem until the Haskells put in a flower garden. The first couple of times Rex was caught tunneling in the Haskell’s yard, they were very understanding. The Drews were apologetic and promised to keep their mutt in control.
At first Rex was indifferent to the yappy poodle named Itty-Bit. When the Haskells put in a dog-door, Itty-Bit would bound out of the house, stand a few feet from the front door and bark menacingly as Rex walked by.
When Rex came home with several small puncture wounds on his bottom, Bob speculated that Itty-Bit sneaked up from behind while he was digging and bit him. He hoped Rex had learned his lesson. Ask anyone who has been bitten in the butt and they will tell you it leaves an impression. It seemed to not only cause Rex to increase his excavating but he became more aggressive, often baring his teeth at that small poodle.
Bob decided he needed to fence in his yard to maintain neighborly harmony. He was going to do just that as soon as he returned from his week on Cape Cod.
The Drews piled into their station wagon and headed to their summer getaway. Dave, the oldest stayed home to work his summer job. Bob took his son aside and told him the importance of keeping Rex on the leash, away from Itty-Bit and out of the neighbor’s yard. For a few days Dave did just that.
Dave was a good kid, an above average student, respectful, a great athlete but he was still a 17-year-old kid. On Sunday morning he got up early to use the bathroom; it was barely light outside and Rex was standing at the front door crying. He took the chance and let him out.
He was eating his breakfast when Rex returned with a deceased Itty-Bit in his mouth.
Dave was mortified. His father’s worst nightmare had come true. What could he do? And then, he had an ingenious and awful idea.
He noticed there were no marks or wounds on the poodle, only saliva and dirt. He put the dog in the sink and cleaned him up. He then used a hair dryer to dry him. When he was finished Itty-Bit looked to be sleeping peacefully. He peaked through the shades to see the Haskells, all dressed up, getting into their car heading to church. He then snuck over to their house, lifted open the dog door and placed Itty-Bit inside. He hoped it would appear like their cherished pet passed by natural causes.
He barely made it home before his parents arrived back from their week away. While the family was unpacking the first thing Bob asked his son was if Rex had behaved. Dave lied and said he had.
It was a few hours later when the Haskells had returned from church and breakfast. Ironically Bob and Dave had already dug a few holes for the fence (that Dave knew was no longer necessary) when Mr. Haskell stormed out his front door looked around and marched over. Dave knew the jig was up.
Mr. Haskell was shaking with anger when he said, “There are some sick people living on this street.” Bob Drew replied, “I’m so sorry you feel that way, what happened?” Mr. Haskell sputtered, “Itty-Bit died yesterday, we buried her in the back yard. Someone dug her up, cleaned her, and put her in back our house.”
Bob Drew was a great story teller. This was my favorite….
Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of Biff America, can be read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Biff’s new book “Mind, Body, Soul.” is available at local shops and bookstores and at BackcountryMagazine.com/Store
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