In the little red house across the alley behind my house, and next to the vacant lot, lived an older woman who routinely complained that we needed to trim branches of the oak trees that crossed our shared property line. Checking with city ordinances, we learned that she was free to trim them but we were under no ordinal obligation to do so. She continued her complaints and demands until the day she moved out. It was mildly annoying but nothing that elicited more than a passing thought.
After she moved out, a single female with her two young children moved into the house. Almost immediately a chain link fence was put up around her back yard, to keep their two friendly, rambunctious dogs contained. If only she had been as conscientious about her children as she was about her dogs. The children it was soon discovered were free-ranging, even though at that time they were probably 4 and 6 years old. She often would sit on the front stoop of the small home with a phone in one hand and a cigarette in the other. Her phone conversations appeared to be riveting and took up all of her attention. The children, as stated before, were free-ranging – onto my vacant lot, which we used for parking, flowers, and a tree sanctuary.
I vividly remember the first time I interacted with the older of the two children, a cute little boy with dark hair. I was in my back yard, doing yard work, and was carting compost – yes, compost piles were also on the back lot – out to the pile when I saw him by the daffodils, picking one after another. I walked up and said, “Those are not your flowers, please do not pick them.” He looked up at me with a blank look on his face, then walked away, presumably to take the flowers to his mother. I remember thinking, good, he understands don’t pick the flowers. Good to set the limits with him right away.
He was back the next day, picking more daffodils.
I let it go and thought, at some point I will need to have a conversation with his mother to make sure she contains her children somewhere other than my property. As she had decided her back yard would be her dogs’ roaming space and toilet, it would have to be somewhere else.
Over the years, not only the boy, but the girl, began to invade the lot. I would go out and tell them to go to their yard. I had multiple “conversations” with the mother. She was invariably sitting on her front stoop with her phone and a cigarette. Each time I informed her she needed to get her kids off of the lot, she would scream at them at a blood-curdling level to “GET YOUR ASSES OVER HERE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” and they would come, running. They’d be back in the lot shortly afterwards, as she sat watching, talking, and smoking.
The little girl was way mouthier than the boy, and she would respond, “My mom says we can play here!” as she had her toys in the roughly arranged sand pit she’d created.
The boy was more destructive. One of his favorite activities was climbing up in the trees and snapping limbs off or jumping on them until they peeled off. A couple of trees my sons bought me for the back lot had their tops mysteriously snapped off.
As the years rolled on the damage to the trees continued. The boy, who by this time, was a teenager, started bringing a friend to the lot. They each had knives, and they took to stabbing the trees and digging bark out of them. I walked out one day and found one of their knives laying on the ground near one of the old oaks. Evidence! I called the police. The officer took my complaint and seemed totally unconcerned about what I was telling him. He said he would go and talk with the mother and instruct her to keep her children off of the lot. He went to the front door. Mysteriously, she was not on the front step and nobody was answering the door. The officer came back over and said, “there is nothing I can do.”
Of course, this empowered them even more. When I came home from work, the two boys, probably 15 by now, would stand in the lot with their knives and stare blankly at me.
I decided I didn’t want to see what was coming next. I sold the lot to the neighbors on the other side of the vacant lot – WITH FULL DISCLOSURE about the neighbor kids. They seemed not as concerned about the teens as the fact they would double the size of their yard. They also gave me full disclosure that they planned on cutting the trees down after buying the lot. With a heavy heart, my days of stewardship of the stand of beautiful old oak was over.
I sold my home and used the proceeds from it and the lot as down payment on another home — this one out in an area with no close neighbors.