I forget their names, but back in the day we had some amazing next-door neighbors when we lived in Southlake. The husband was pure Texan, tall, handsome, well-mustached and born wearing his Stetson. His wife was homecoming-queen gorgeous, and together the two of them had three adorable children. It was fun growing up next to them, having conversations across the fences and sharing beers with them on long, hot summer days.
Then they moved away, relocating to another part of town and leaving their spread empty. New neighbors moved in named Susan and Ed. They seemed normal enough — an older pair of city-slickers who moved to the country and immediately screwed up their dreams of owning a ranch by purchasing two of the crappiest horses I’d ever seen. Soon after they settled in, my mom and dad invited Susan and Ed over for dinner and a friendly drink. Mother thought it would be a nice occasion to break out her wedding crystal, which didn’t get much use in the casual country setting they lived in.
Ed made quite an impression when it was discovered the hard way that he was a Vietnam War veteran. Something in the post-dinner conversation triggered a flashback, and immediately he was being ambushed in a rice paddy by invisible Charlies. Instincts taking over, Army training kicking in, Ed dove behind our couch for cover and retaliated with a grenade attack of my mother’s crystal. His wine-filled goblet smashed against the far wall, and red wine stained the carpet and furniture all around. Damn Commies!
Needless to say, the relationship between my parents and the new neighbors didn’t start on a high note. Yet mom and dad were still willing to give them a chance.
Horses tend to get bored standing out in pastures all day waiting for their meals, so my family decided that ours could use some companionship. When I was in high school, we had a goat named X-Ray. He was previously owned by a friend of ours in Denton. I can still remember the night when my father and I drove to get him . . . we threw him into the back of dad’s truck, bound him to its bed with bailing wire, stopped at a 7-Eleven for the reward of a Big Gulp, and returned home with this strange beast. He was a great goat — until he suffered from an intestinal blockage and literally blew up. It seems the sucker got plugged up from swallowing something he shouldn’t, then filled with gas and split down the seams.
Years later, it was time to acquire a replacement goat. I have no idea where we got him, but soon enough we owned a tiny black-coated dude named Billy Ray Bracken. He was quite a friendly goat, with his constant companion being Rator, our Tennessee Walker gelding, followed by our other horses Missy and Casi. One day, our diplomat decided to expand his circle of friends. As Billy Ray often went wherever he wanted, this included going over, under — and through the fence to hang out with the neighbor’s horses.
Our neighbors Ed and Susan tolerated it for quite some time. But then one day, Susan approached the fence to have words with my mother. The conversation spiraled down hill faster than you can say “clusterfuck”.
“Get your goat off our property,” said Susan.
“Why,” my mother asked, “Did something happen?”
“Get your goat off our property.”
“What did he do?”
“Get your goat off our property.”
“Why won’t you explain–”
“Get your goat off our property.”
“I don’t understand–”
“Get your goat off our property.”
“You’re being a bitch–”
“Get your goat off our property.”
And so forth.
From that point on, I was often recruited by my father on fence-mending expeditions to prevent future goat excursions. If Billy Ray had battered down part of the fence, we would go out and build it back up. Should the beast have burrowed underneath, we’d drive wooden pylons deep into the ground to prevent future jailbreaks. Finally in the end, we strung up yards of electric hot wire. This seemed to do the trick, although every now and then Billy Ray would mysteriously find a way to keep seeing his friends next door.
Sometime later, my mother was performing her weekly chore of mowing the lawn with her John Deere. Zigzagging around in the summer heat, one hand occupied with the steering wheel, the other with a cold beer, she would draw straight, regular swaths across our rolling pastures. Earlier that week, Susan and Ed had decided to expand their menagerie through their purchase of a German Sheppard named Casey. It’s been said that animals resemble their owners, and Casey was no exception — the dog was quite dense.
Casey disregarded her owner and ran over to our property to bark at our horses and spread chaos. Ed clambered over the fence to retrieve his dog. He’d chase after the disobedient hound, but every time he came close to rounding her up my mother would pilot her riding mower between the two of them. Ed would get held up in traffic, Casey would pull farther away, and mom would reward herself with a chug.
This spectacle went on for nearly half an hour before Susan felt the need to help. She walked to the fence and prepared to climb it over to our side. Mother cranked the steering wheel, sped towards the fence, parked on the other side from Susan, stood high in the saddle, and sternly said, “Don’t you dare set foot on my property!”
Susan blanched and began, “How dare you take that tone with–”
Mother cut her off. “Don’t you lecture me! I’m a realtor and I know my rights. Set one foot over that fence and I’m calling the cops.” With great timing, my father stepped outside. Although he was some distance away, he witnessed these two women staring down one another. Susan turned to gaze towards my father, who returned the gesture by grinning, then demonstratively dialing the police on his cell phone. She climbed down from the fence and walked back to her house, and not for one second did she take her angry glare off my mother.
Somewhere down the line, my parents became visionaries by embracing Texas Hold ‘Em and hosting gambling night every Friday evening. All of our close friends would come over to play, drink, and smoke the night away. One night, a police cruiser drove up to the house. Two officers, a younger patrolman and his older partner, asked to speak to my mother.
Since our town was small enough that everyone knew just about everyone, we recognized the two. The younger cop also knew my mother and said to her in a friendly country drawl, “We’re reeeeeally sorry that we have to be here tonight, ma’am.” The officers were there because of the goat. It seems that Susan and Ed had grown tired of the goat trespassing upon their green pastures, and they had called the cops on us! Before the night was through, my mother was issued a citation for “animal at large,” one of the more obscure laws on the books.
And so began…The Goat Wars.
The police in our town historically do not like to bother the citizens they protect. They don’t like to intrude upon their homes. They hate to get involved in disputes between neighbors. Live and let live. And because everyone in this town is someone you encounter on a regular basis, officers feel especially awkward handing out citations for stupid laws like “animal at large.”
The younger officer who issued my mother’s citation said to her, “Now, ma’am, you can pay the fine. Or…” And at this point, his voice gained a nudge-nudge/wink-wink as he spoke, “…you can take your neighbor to small claims court.”
My mother is as sharp as a knife, and the officer’s emphasis was not lost on her. They both knew that the courts don’t like dealing with bullshit — if she went to court, it was likely that her neighbor’s complaint would be dealt with in my mother’s favor or dismissed. The next day, mom drove to the city courthouse and spoke with the attending clerk, who asked her, “OK, ma’am, did you want to pay this citation or take it to court?”
She quickly interrupted, “When can we get a jury together?”
The clerk was surprised. “Jury?!”
“Yeah,” said my mom. “I want the biggest fucking trail I can get for my tax dollars!”
I love my mother.
There isn’t much to report on the court battle. It was small claims court, which meant that (sadly) there was no jury, no lawyers, and all parties represented themselves. This didn’t stop my mother from making my father argue their case in front of the judge, which he did begrudgingly. Mom was salivating in anticipation of getting her arch-enemy neighbors on the stand, envisioning tearing them up in the same methodical fashion as her hero Perry Mason. In the end, the parties presented their arguments, the judge thought about it, and he declared that he couldn’t rule on the issue. He just couldn’t determine who was at fault with all of the ridiculous things that had occurred between the two families.
One of the more interesting things about my parents is their love of the world of competition chili-cooking. These events are pure Texan, a fun way to pass the weekend, and a wonderful ways to raise money for charitable causes. My parents have been involved in this activity ever since I was a little kid, and every Valentine’s Day they host their own cook-off in our back pasture. All of their closest chili head friends attend.
If you’ve never been to a cook-off, visualize a pasture full of RVs, trucks, and trailers, all of which have been parked there for several days. Each vehicle sports some sort of personalization such as NASCAR stickers, rebel flags, or giant attached tents. Dozens of men, women, and children of all ages mill about, wearing all sorts of outlandish costume (how you look is almost as important as how your chili tastes), drinking beer and cooking chili, ribs, beans, and brisket all day each day. When the night comes and the chill of the winter night arrives, everyone gathers in the barn to continue the fun by blaring country music, dancing, and drinking until they pass out. Such events can last for days and be great magnets of attention.
One year, all of the cooks were gathered around the barn to hear the results of the chili cook-off. My parents were reading off the winners of the top-ten trophies when we noticed that two police officers were approaching the building. One of the cops was the same young patrolman who interrupted our poker night with the “animal at large” complain. My mom went to speak with him.
“Ma’am, we’re reeeeeally sorry that we have to be back here again,” said the familiar younger officer. You could tell that he was quite embarrassed to have to pass along the following news: that the police were there to investigate reports that my parents were operating some sort of cult. What would you think, seeing a pasture that was empty, now filled with all sorts of party-hardy people from out-of-town, up all day and night, brandishing all sorts of wild decoration and costume?
I believe that my mother was pissed off now.
At the time, my father was a member of the city’s planning and zoning commission. One day, he used the powers of his position to scour property records at city hall. He soon discovered that the fence diving our pasture from Susan and Ed’s was completely on their side of the property line. They were ultimately responsible for maintaining the barrier. My father immediately called and told me to come down from college. We spent the next morning removing all of our improvements that we’d done for the fence. Off came the electric wire. No more pylons in the ground to prevent digging.
The goat spent the rest of the afternoon battering down the fence and digging all sorts of subterranean routes.
One rainy weekend night, I drove down from college to visit my parents. I drove up the muddy front road to our driveway to find it occupied by my parent’s behemoth of a RV. I had to park on the soaked lawn, then trudge to the house through a fleeting miniature lake. By the time I got inside, I was cold, wet, muddy, and sour in mood. I came to find out that my parents had good reason for parking the motor home on the driveway — it seems that they caught Susan and Ed spying on them!
Indeed, our neighbors would sit in their living room for hours on end and stare across the pasture and into the kitchen where my parents often hung out. The driveway lay in between, and the RV was parked there to block their view. They were forced themselves to park in the mud, just like me, because there was no room left on the driveway.
I asked my parents why they just don’t close the blinds, and my mom told me, “Like hell I’m going to let them win.”
The rain continued for days. So much so that the creek that divided the land between our houses and the street was at a dangerously high level. Water came up to the bottom of our bridge, so we still had the ability to come and go. As for our neighbors, their lower bridge was completely submerged, and the only way for them to leave their property would have been through a gate onto our land along the fence we shared.
Too bad that, in response to my complaints about parking in the mud, my father moved the RV from the driveway and parked it in the only place where he could: in front of the gate.
Another Friday poker night came with another visit from the police. Our friend the young officer, who was becoming like family with his frequent visits, once again apologized for the intrusion.
Susan and Ed had called once again, this time to report that we were violating an anti-redneck city ordinance by keeping junked cars in our yard. The law applied to any vehicle parked long-term in front of one’s house, and in the front was our tractor, our motor home, our friend’s horse trailer, another friend’s boat…and my truck. My beloved Jimmy, which I parked at home to save money during college!
Before, I wasn’t involved in this dispute. But now, it was personal, and I wanted to get back at those fuckers.
Speaking of fuckers, we got a new Labrador Retriever during this time. As the dude got older, it grew close to The Day that all puppies dread. On the day we were taking him to be neutered, he broke free from his leash before we could secure him in the car. That dog bolted faster than we could keep up, and he promptly ran next door, found Susan and Ed’s dog Casey, and humped her brains out.
Some weeks later, we soon found out that Casey wasn’t fixed either. You should have seen how butt-ugly those German Sheppard/Lab mix puppies were! There’s still no word on if our dog ever had to pay child support.
Finally, God jumped into our little war of social attrition with an empathic closing statement. One of those Texas summer storms suddenly brewed, and in a literal flash the giant post oak that anchored our neighbor’s pasture was split asunder by a lightning strike. Soon after, Susan and Ed decided they had had enough of the country life. They put their house on the market, sold it quickly enough, and disappeared.
A mere week later, my parents sold their own house and began to build their dream home in
Paradise, Texas. Although they had outlasted Susan and Ed by just seven days, that was plenty enough time to claim victory in the Goat Wars.
As for Billy Ray Bracken, he moved to Paradise with my parents and continues to spend his days drifting from property to property. Not every part of the new property is fenced yet, but the locals are a bit more laid-back and don’t seem to mind his wanderlust. Despite the animal at large, Mom and dad get along with everyone living around them.
So perhaps the saying should be, “No fences make good neighbors?”