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Friday, April 1, 2016

Missy's Life inside the Fence

I write what I feel and lately I've been feeling a lot. A little bit like life inside our fence is a bit narrow and tight. Read on from my column on The Holmes County Bargain Hunter

Missy's Life inside the Fence

We built a fence around our yard when we bought our house back in ‘96. Our kids were tiny, and my husband had grown up knowing many fences that surrounded baked-tile courtyards, with stucco buildings. They were warm, happy places you could sit and have coffee in the morning or find shade in the late afternoon as the hot sun slipped away from the day. It wasn’t a way of keeping people out; it was part of their culture, a way of affording privacy in tightly packed streets full of people. I had never had a fence, growing up in the center of Berlin, and was used to running barefoot through the neighbor’s yards. It didn’t matter where you ran; you were always welcome, allowed to roam at will through the neighborhood. There was a wild freedom to it, knowing your light footsteps through your dad’s straight mowing lines and onto the next lawn’s curvy ones wouldn’t get you yelled at. 

From the road, you might not know that our backyard is a nice size. It used to be hemmed in by a grove of pine trees in the back that are now lost to chain saws and pictures. But when we built the fence, it closed the backyard in on all sides except for the back stretch where the pines began. Our kids would cross into the pines and build forts in there, dragging broken branches and leftover trellis pieces to create mansions. It didn’t matter that it wasn’t our land because they were welcome there, unnoticed really, but not causing anyone harm. 

I loved the feeling that the fence created. I could weed in my flower beds when I wanted to, or lay out in the sun on our concrete patio without concern for prying eyes. The kids frolicked in their plastic swimming pools, making a mess of the backyard that most would cringe at. I relished it though, knowing that it was our space in which to create havoc and memories. Childhood is so fleeting and full of emotions that leaving a mess is sometimes easier than constantly trying to clean it up. It’s a futile effort that’s best left for the days when you find yourself, startlingly, in a home that’s empty yet neat as a pin. It’s those times when you long for a bit of mayhem. Tidy, stark rooms — just like safely ensconced empty backyard spaces — aren’t the same when there’s no one there to inhabit them. 

The fence, bit by bit, started to deteriorate. It wasn’t an expensive one, and aside from painting it occasionally, we didn’t do much upkeep on it. The kids grew, not needing to be fenced in anymore, the pine grove was cut down, the swing set sold, and one day I found myself staring forlornly at warped boards that needed repair and replacement. It was in disarray, and I became embarrassed by it. Every year, as the seasons turned the corner and became spring, then summer, I hesitated to look at it because of how ugly it had become. It became a barrier to what was outside of it. The inevitable happened, and as we were re-siding the house, we tore the worst of the old fence down – opening it up to see our neighbors yard for the first time in nearly 20 years. 

I sat awhile, pensive and thoughtful, thinking how closed off we had been. We erected the fence to protect our kids from running onto driveways, or to stay safely away from the several ponds that were/are still behind the house. We did it to stop people from coming into the yard, tucking ourselves — and only us — into its safe confines. But life isn’t always safe. Maybe we’ll tear the whole thing down and never replace it. I want to see what’s on the other side — as well as welcome people into my backyard. That’s what neighbors should do.