Good fences don’t always make good neighbors.  By Hank Nuwer

Leviticus 19:13 tells us, “Thou shall not oppress your neighbor.”

That Bible quotation came back to me in Fairbanks, Alaska on Saturday at a brilliant, albeit disturbing performance of Native Gardens by playwright Karen Zacarias. Three of my friends acted in the play and another served as music coordinator.

Here’s the plot: An ambitious younger Hispanic couple move into a fixer-upper next door to an older Anglo couple with established roots. A petty, vicious war between the neighbors erupts over a shared ugly fence built upon a strip of boundary land.

The play’s upbeat conclusion offers a morality lesson in the importance of consideration, compromise, and love-thy-neighbor forgiveness.

Randolph County has had neighbor-on-neighbor spats, but perhaps none so vicious as the Weese-Laisure feud in the 1940s.

Lucy Weese and her husband sparred with neighbors Wesley and Martha Laisure, because each coveted more favorable property boundaries.

A wire fence with overgrown shrubbery became the focal point of a raging feud between Lucy and Martha.

One day, Martha tossed an empty salmon can into Lucy’s yard. That was like the first mortar round at Fort Sumter starting the Civil War.

The North Meridian street wives took the dispute to a justice of the peace who bade them resolve the dispute on their own.

However, instead, the bickering by both parties turned into screaming matches and vile name calling. In March of 1942, Martha stomped onto the Good fences don’t always make good She hurled three rocks at Lucy.

“All three found their mark,” said neighbor Frank White who watched the whole drama unfold.

Lucy marched into her tiny house and came out to rush Martha with a shotgun in hand. Without hesitation, she eviscerated her neighbor from four yards out with a belly blast. “I’ve been shot,” Martha cried before bleeding out.

Sheriff Kora David responded.

“I hit her, and I hope she dies,” admitted Lucy, a large, sturdy woman who chopped her own wood and loved Hoosier small-town history. “I was tired of all the fussing.”

In court, defense attorney Malcolm Skinner put Lucy on the stand. Lucy claimed she had just been trying to intimidate Martha when the gun accidentally fired.

A jury meeting in Judge John W. Macy’s courtroom refused to acquit Lucy but recommended a lesser charge. A voluntary manslaughter conviction could have put the shooter away as a felon for ten years.

Lucy’s husband Goly Weese testified that one time he heard Martha shout at his wife: “You blank), I am going to kill you. Also in court were husband Wesley Laisure with sons Everett and Joseph, the latter in his soldier’s uniform.

The jury reportedly took six ballots before changing the mind of a single juror who wanted an acquittal. Lucy served a single year in the penitentiary for the crime of involuntary manslaughter

In 1946, Martha’s son Joe still carried a grudge. He assaulted Lucy and she filed charges. A sympathetic judge left him off with a fine and a warning.

Undetermined, and perhaps unhinged as his short-lived marriage ended in divorce, Joe got drunk in 1949 and sought revenge.

Bad idea.

He shotgunned the Weese residence where Lucy and Goly cowered in a bedroom. That stunt put Joe into the state farm for eight months.

Lucy Weese, 75, died a widow at home on July 6, 1957. She managed to stay out of the papers except when challenging litterbugs dumping garbage. She found peace attending Winchester Nazarene Church.

Now, many years after the tragic confrontation, an online photo shows that one of the feuding neighbor’s homes and the wire fence are both gone. The once-offending stand of shrubbery stands tall.

The play Native Gardens and the tragic Weese-Laisure feud teach us that Robert Frost may have been wrong. Good fences don’t always make good neighbors.

More important for community harmony is the greatest command: “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as yourself.”