It was the downed fence, I think, that finally caused us to have Bob and Jeri over for dinner.

We’ve lived next door to Bob and Jeri for eight years and never once invited them to share a meal with us. They’re nice folks, but certain…things…had worked toward keeping us in our own homes.

The fence, for one.

People in our neighborhood tend to live in homes with high, solid privacy fences, suggesting: You stay on your side, I’ll stay on mine. But Bob and Jeri wanted to replace their fence, so the original one had to come down. And when it did, we had a glorious view from our kitchen table right into their yard: Bushy, blushy azaleas in full bloom, a pinkish-red brick patio with a winding walkway, a fountain with running water – it made for a restful breakfast every morning looking into their yard.

Much better than our own, which tends to fend for itself, and also is hidden away behind our own high wood fence. No, Bob and Jeri’s was a masterpiece of a back yard; and the opening up of it made us feel a little more…familiar, relaxed, with our next-door neighbors. All of a sudden it seemed OK to invite them over.

Fences aren’t the only design features that keep neighborhood residents compartmentalized in their own back yards. Many of us also have a driveway and garage in the back of the house. One we drive into, close the garage door and get out of our cars, without ever speaking to or seeing any neighbor who might’ve happened to be, say, taking the garbage out to the alley: A perfectly good neighbor who’d be good to know, but didn’t have enough time while the garage door was closing to say anything chummy.

This high-fence-and-hermity-garage arrangement tends to estrange neighbors. If you can’t visit your neighbors as they arrive home or putter in their back yards, then when?

Porches, those “bench-sitting, come-visit-me creations,” would be a help. But not many Lake Highlands homes have them like they do in, say, Lakewood.

Now there’s a neighborhood prime for porch visiting. Not only do lots of Lakewood homes have porches, they have chain link, see-through, wave-at-your-neighbors fences.

So where do Lake Highlands neighbors connect?

Sidewalks, for one.

Lots of Lake Highlanders walk, especially in the early evening. Pods of neighbors, often accessorized with a dog or two (conversation starters in themselves) usually are friendly enough to stop and chat, at least until the tiger mosquitoes find their meals. (At least someone is having dinner together.)

Another place Lake Highlands residents connect is through the schools and churches. And, to some extent, our retail stores are fertile ground for chatting with someone you recognize. But how many of these Kroger-Tom Thumb-Albertson-Wal-Mart encounters actually translate into inviting someone over for iced tea or dinner?

Our dinner with Bob and Jeri left me convinced of something I’d known all along – we should’ve done this a long time ago. We had a wonderful evening and can’t wait to do it again.

I’m sure whoever designed most of the Lake Highlands neighborhoods back in the 1950s and ’60s were touting the very latest in privacy features. But I don’t think they foresaw how these very features made it easy for everyone to stay orbiting within our little properties, away from each other.

I’ve decided I’m not going to let an architect’s decision for modern living keep me from getting to know my neighbors anymore.

It’s time to overcome, and come over.

Dinner’s at 6.