LC Van Savage
Do Fence Me In
You have any fences in your life? I don’t mean the philosophical in-your-mind fences, but the real deal, like around your property or between you and your neighbors or you and your neighbor’s livestock.
About fifteen winters ago a dear and good neighbor called me from her job and asked me to please bring her precious dog Sasha, a beautiful Siberian husky, sweet animal, into her house because the dog been left outside and a huge ice storm was hammering its way toward us. I liked that big dog and was happy to do it, so I ran down my front path across a powdery layer of treacherous snow sneakily covering a sheet of black ice. My fall was hideous, flailing and grotesque. I heard my left arm bone snap and instead of worrying about my wounded limb, I worried frantically that someone would drive by and see me crawling back to my house, or God forbid, stop to help. Why are we so stupid about things like this? Why are we embarrassed about people seeing us fall? Well, we are. Well, I am. I got back home on two knees and one hand on the snow and ice, and like the seasoned martyr I am, got into the car, drove to neighbor’s home with one hand, got the dog safely in, and drove to the emergency room with my arm swinging like a limp cannoli. Yep, the old arm was broken, luckily my left since I’m right-handed. Good thing for Mongo that I could continue cooking his dinners. Ah, but then I didn’t do that before this incident so had no intention of starting.
And that’s how I got my fence. I told Mongo that if I had a nice fence going from our front steps all the way out to the mailbox to grasp onto, I could get our mail, fetch neighbor’s dogs and make it out to the street and back to the front door without ending up with my arm or any other body part in a cast for six weeks. So the good man built me the long fence that proudly stands there to this day and it’s a big part of our lives.
We decided to paint that fence with some sort of marine type boat varnish so all the folks under nine who visit us constantly wouldn’t get splinters when they climbed on it, thinking this extra special, extra very expensive varnish would withstand the Maine winters. It began to slide off in long, shiny strips about two days after we painted it on, so we gave up and thus far no one’s been the recipient of either a wooden or varnish splinter.
This fence gives us a lot of fun. Not only does it keep me from breaking my arm or hip or butt or knee or head on our path’s inevitable ice, but it’s also served many purposes and continues to. All the grandchildren love to climb on it, call me to watch as they perform Cirque Du Soliel tricks on it. They hang from it, straddle it like the bucking bronco they’re pretending it is, sit on the top rail and rock as they look at the trees and bugs and people and contemplate their short lives. The grandchildren play Badminton and Tennis over it. Any number of missiles have been heaved over it and then heaved back; Frisbees, baseballs, Whiffle balls, and many things not allowed to be heaved have been, like anything or anyone alive. Squirrels and chipmunks race along its top, birds sit and rest there, leaving notice of their presence. Kids and non-kids lean nonchalantly against it during conversation or argue furiously across its top. Easter eggs swing from it on long, colorful strands of yarn in the spring. Christmas lights twinkle on it in December. Red white and blue streamers stream from it on the Fourth of July and pumpkins sit on its posts for Hallowe’en. Fall leaves blow against those posts in big glistening, golden, red and yellow piles, all too soon replaced by great marshmallow drifts of snow. And when anyone walks past that fence in winter, they trail their mittened hand across its top as they pass, unable to resist sliding the newly fallen snow from it.
It’s been said that “Good fences make good neighbors,” from “Mending Wall” by Robert Frost, and I’ve seen that in action. We had two neighbors across the street when we lived in New Jersey who hated each other with a hatred the likes of the Jukes and Kallikacs, of Bette and Joan, of Hitler and …well everyone else. To show their anger at long forgotten slights, one family would sneak to the other’s property in the spring and rip out all their new perennials and leave them scattered all over their front lawn like small, thin corpses. The opposite family would sneak out in the night with an ice pick and stab his neighbor’s back tires. One neighbor’s new gas outdoor grille suddenly stopped working because an important switch had been removed never to be found. One Hallowe’en, both houses were nearly totally encased in toilet paper in the rain and later on, each car had been keyed so often, they looked like zebras on wheels.
Finally one family put up a long fence in the very thin strip of grass dividing the two driveways, hired a landscaper to put fabulous flowers and roses on their side of that mahogany stained wooden fence, leaving the opposite side facing their arch enemies raw and full of braces and nails. It was a high fence, with a bit of a stockade look about it and it seemed to work. I guess everyone was just too lazy to walk around the ends to perform more vandalism. The whole situation was getting a little old anyway, and that fence finally ended the childish contretemps.
I know our wooden fence will eventually have to be replaced and the new one will be fine and will keep me, as the old one did, from falling on my whatevers when I hobble down my icy path. But the new one will never afford us the memories this one has. By then the grandchildren will have moved on to put up their own fences on which to hang their own memories, and that’s always good.
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