On Fences

A freewrite from a magnificent class I'm taking...

Each year, my elementary school hosted a family fun fest. There was a small petting zoo, face painting and both jump rope and fence-painting contests. I loved the fence painting. Each kid would get a four-plank section, about as tall as we were then, a bucket of white paint and a wide brush.

On your marks, get set, GO! And we were off.

There's a picture of me, in one of my mom's old albums. She must have forty albums in her cabinets; she was so good about taking pictures and notating the backs and organizing them. The picture that floats so clearly in my memory is of me wearing overalls and a floppy straw hat. A sprig of wheat hangs from my mouth, and the freckles across the bridge of my nose look as if Mom had drawn them on with eyeliner.

I am smiling grandly, paintbrush in hand. As soon as the "GO" would sound, I'd dunk the brush in the paint and slosh it up and down the coarse planks. Up and down, up and down, until my fence was gleaming white. "Done!"

I think I won, but I could be wrong. The fun of it was just that. Having fun. Not worrying if my fence was sloppily done or if white drips coursed towards the grass. It was simple, elemental.

Today when I think of fences, I think of our country trying to keep people out.

I think of the fences people are prone to erecting around their hearts and around monuments for security and preservation purposes.

I think of the ways fences keep things in, too often under the insincere guise of protection. I think that when I pass a fence and the gate is open, I smile.

Each summer, we go to a North Carolina beach with extended family. There are two paths to the beach from the place we stay. I always choose the same one because it leads me by a stunning home whose perfectly manicured yard is surrounded by a gate that is always ajar. Invariably, I see a bunny inside, and I think, "How nice. You can come and go as you please."