In his classic poem, “Mending Wall,” Robert Frost quotes his neighbor who says, “Good fences make good neighbors.” Well, that may have been true for those two, but my neighbor of several decades, the recently deceased John Sheehan, and I did not need a good fence to respect and enjoy our neighborliness. Oh yes, John did have an electric fence through his front yard, but that was just to keep Murphy and Jackie, his later-year companions, from running onto Hinesburg Road to either greet visitors or bark at trucks.
As Celtic vocalist Bono said of Ronnie Drew, his fellow musician in the Dubliners, “He was not just a musician, he was King of Ireland.” Similarly, John Sheehan was not just our neighbor, he was the “King of East Charlotte.”
John Bland, a former UVM physician, wrote a book titled Live Long, Die Fast: Playing the Aging Game to Win in which he urges elderly people to maintain their physical and mental activity in the likelihood that their deaths will then simply be a final and quick stage at the end of an active life. That was certainly the case for John Sheehan. As of this past summer and fall, he still rode his lawn mower over his own lawn before heading up the hill to ours. It was a treat to look out into our back yard and see him circling the property on a John Deere as green as the grass he was cutting. It seemed as though he cared that what had been part of the agricultural site of his family for a number of generations ought to be maintained and not, as is often the case now, with farms, left to go to rack and ruin (plus, he needed the activity for his own well-being). So probably for both reasons, he also cut the lawn around the village-center barn until he could do it no longer.
East Charlotte could easily have been named “Sheehanville.” From the iconic white house at the intersection of Hinesburg Road and Spear Street, kitty-corner from the former family barn, to north and west past Sheehan Green (now with housing but previously part of John’s family’s pasture area) to John’s smaller house west on Hinesburg Road, on property through which the VAST trail runs past a former orchard and into a maple woods whose trees are now tapped for syrup, the working farm that John took over many years ago lives on with a variety of local operations that one hopes will carry on in perpetuity.
I will miss John. His friendliness as a neighbor was contagious. There was a period in my own life when I used to walk to Spear’s Corner Store each morning, and on the way I would often pick up John’s newspaper from his mailbox and deliver it to him. We would chat a bit about whatever was on each other’s mind. I will miss that. I will miss his dog Jackie stopping just short of her electric fence, at first yipping at me, then later greeting me with a lick.
Good neighbors make good neighbors.