A Grudge from the Grave

When you just can’t let things go.

Nobody knows how it started — the feud between my Dad and the lady next door — it just seems to have raged on for as long as anyone could remember. Nobody knows how she got the moniker, “The Old Goat,” either, but it stuck. On the side of our house that faced hers, the shades were always down and the curtains drawn in a sort of cut-off-your-nose-to-spite-your-face effort to block out the fact of her existence. Nevertheless, she made her presence known.

As kids we’d play in the backyard and whenever a ball went flying over the fence into the Old Goat’s yard, she’d be out like a shot — sometimes even before the ball hit the ground — snatching the ball and refusing to give it back, thereby ruining our game for that afternoon. I always imagined her perched on a stool by the window, munching pork rinds and swigging Fresca, just watching and waiting. Maybe it was her hobby — collecting balls instead of stamps. (In fairness, there were only 3 TV channels back then.) This went on for years, and I often wondered where she kept them all, and if she had a room dedicated to the many baseballs, softballs footballs and badminton birdies belonging to the neighborhood’s children. It seemed likely; there were definitely too many for a closet.

I remember my father pulling out of the driveway one morning, when suddenly the Old Goat’s little dog darted out of their house, across our lawn and directly into the path of the car. We kids had been playing in the yard, saw what was about to happen and screamed, just as the Old Goat’s daughter came running out of the house chasing the dog. My father slammed on the brakes and the dog scurried to safety. The neighbor’s daughter, sobbing, scooped up her dog. “You should have let him hit the dog,” called the Old Goat from her porch, “then we could have sued him!”

Swear to God.

While my father claimed that his hatred for the Old Goat is basically what kept him alive, my mother was very religious, and always prayed for a change of heart. At Christmas she organized the neighborhood children to go caroling and hand out cookies to the neighbors. As we stood on the sidewalk in front of the Old Goat’s house, she urged Darcie (the cutest 4-year old available) to march up the steps, knock on the door, and deliver the cookies. The door opened, the OG looked at all of us standing in the cold singing “Silent Night,” and slammed the door in little Darcie’s face — shaking even my mother’s faith in a Christmas miracle.

Another time, my father was laid up in bed following back surgery. He was in a body cast, and it was my job to make him a cup of tea and bring him the mail after I got home from school. As I was making the tea, there was a knock at the door and two uniformed policemen asked for my father. They said the lady next door had called in a complaint accusing my father of hopping the fence and breaking a window in her garage. I was doubtful, as my father was not athletic in the best of times, but then again — I’d been at school all day, so who knows what went on? I shrugged and led the police upstairs to my parent’s bedroom. The officers looked at my father, immobile in his bed, and asked if the lady next door was a kook. My father confirmed that indeed she was; they apologized for the intrusion and left.

My father died in 2002, having never reconciled with the Old Goat next door. Years later, while packing up some things from the now empty house, I opened the curtains and lifted the shade on the window facing her house. That window had probably not been opened in decades, I reflected, as I brushed a thick layer of dust from the sill. But I couldn’t open the window — something was stuck. After much pulling and pounding, I pried out a large block of wood wedged against the window, a sign that read “ UGLY SOW” in metallic-tape letters.

My father must have made the sign and put it in the window sometime in the 1990’s, long after all us kids had grown up and moved away. He never told any of us about it, but that sign greeted the lady next door every single day as she pulled into her driveway. (My Dad’s use of the reflective tape was particularly inspired, just in case she returned home after dark.) I come from a long line of grudge-holders, but this was epic revenge on a whole different scale.

I was both horrified and delighted. Why he made the editorial choice to switch from “Old Goat” to “Ugly Sow,” though, remains a mystery.

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