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Two Conflicting Characters

Freda Isaksen

My husband and I purchased a home just one block from a public school, for a family with three young sons that was an ideal arrangement. There were many other children in the vicinity to be companions to our boys, it was easy for them to get to school in inclement weather and they could come home for lunch, which was a desirable bonus in those days.

A well-known university professor and his wife became our next-door neighbors. When I saw him tending his front garden I approached him and welcomed him to the neighborhood. He immediately asked, “How many children do you have?” Very proudly I told him I had three sons aged three, six and eight. His response was, “I hope they will not disturb me as I do a lot of studying and writing and need a quiet environment.” After a few moments he added, “My wife and I have no desire to have any children.”

Right away I sensed animosity and thought, this man is obviously not endeared to children so why did he choose to buy a house which is located near a school and where there will constantly be children walking by?

Very shortly thereafter I saw a landscape gardener next door planting trees that would block the view to the sidewalk so I understood that there would be no friendliness with this neighbor when he discovered my three boisterous boys.

It did not take long before unpleasant incidents started to occur. One day as my boys were playing ball in their own backyard, Mr. Van Dragen called over the fence, “Be quiet, I can’t work with this noise going on!” On another day as my children were entertaining their friends he called out to me, “Don’t you have enough with three boys, do you have to invite more? It’s become necessary for me to do my work at night.”

We had no intention of changing our lifestyle or inhibiting our boys so we ignored his protestations, although it was an annoying situation that a neighbor would object to normal behavior of a typical family living in a single-family dwelling.

At that time every house had a backyard incinerator in which the owners would burn their trash as there was no city collection of refuse. However there was a restriction by law that stated that all trash burning must be completed by ten AM.

The tension between us became worse on the Fourth of July when our family arose later than the usual six AM because Dad was home that day for the holiday, and he was playing with the boys who were still clad in their night attire. I was a busy mother and that morning I had a late start with my chores so I had postponed the daily burning of the trash to a later time than normal. We were eating our breakfast when the telephone rang. “Mrs. Isaksen, this is your local police precinct calling, we are sorry to disturb you but your neighbor has called in complaining that your incinerator is smoking and it is past the ten o’clock deadline.” Although inwardly I was furious I politely answered, “I am sorry, I will put it out immediately and I will try to not let it happen again.” Although no names were mentioned I surmised who the caller could be as no other neighbor would be vindictive enough to call the police.

I did not want to just ignore this incident. I felt contempt for my neighbor’s method of handling my discrepancy so I telephoned him and said, “Mr. Van Dragen, couldn’t you have called me with your complaint instead of calling the police?” He answered, “Mrs. Isaksen, you have broken the law!”

Well, I thought, there will come a day when I’ll get even with him and that day did come very soon thereafter.

One morning I heard a banging and knocking from the rear of my house, I looked outside and saw workmen building an addition which looked like a shed and was being attached to the neighbor’s house on the one side and the fence dividing the two properties on the other side. There is a mandatory easement of ten feet required between two houses, which serves as a safeguard against possible fire, it is for the protection of the owners and nothing is allowed to be built to disturb this easement.

Under different circumstances before any more time elapsed and expense incurred I would have asked my neighbor if he was aware of the restriction that he could not lawfully attach any building to the fence, but my spitefulness manifested itself and I decided to emulate his actions, so I called the building licensing department at City Hall and inquired if a license had been issued and reported the violation of the building code. Of course it took a while until an inspector arrived to assess the situation and by that time the work was completed, the roof was in place and the addition was painted to match the house. The inspector took one look and ordered it to be demolished.

After that Mr. Van Dragen never bothered us again. A short time later the house next door was sold and my neighbors moved away. One day I was browsing through some material at the library and I happened to come across an article written by Professor Van Dragen, the opening line stated, “They got up at six o’clock every morning.” My reaction was—my family has become famous. I had no desire to check out the article or to read it, I was sure it would contain nothing useful to learn.


Copyright Freda Isaksen 1986–2006. Permission to reuse for non-commercial purposes is granted, provided that the text is unaltered and the original source is acknowledged. For more information, contact isaksen at math.wayne.edu.

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