Outside my office window I can see a portion of the second newest fence on this place. Yellow Jasmine climbs that gray fence, emerging from gaps in the low hedge that I planted myself atop a low retaining wall some time ago. The back fence I had replaced after a windstorm a couple years ago is the newest, but not so new that it hasn’t also turned gray. The south fence is the oldest. It’s grayer than gray and it could do with a good replacing, but not as long as it’s still standing. In “Mending Walls,” the poet Robert Frost writes of a neighbor who says, “Good fences make good neighbors.” My neighbors are good, but I suspect it’s their nature and not the fences that make them so.
There’s a lot to be said for fences. I was 2 years old when a Montana Department of Highways employee named Bob Fletcher wrote “Don’t Fence Me In” and sold it to Cole Porter for $250. I first heard the song as a budding teen when my hero Roy Rogers sang it in the movie “Hollywood Canteen.” It wasn’t long before even my parents and their friends were whistling along or singing the lyrics: “Oh, give me land, lots of land under starry skies above. Don’t fence me in.” Remember? Catchy tune, but I’m personally more comfortable being fenced in.
Not fenced in claustrophobically, though. At a different place and time I had a split-rail fence built to surround my corner lot, but I had them leave a gap on the off-street side and another in the back so my neighbors could come and go.
One of my fence installers was a burly high school student. I can still see him lying flat on his belly, one arm buried up to his shoulder in the hole he had dug and was clearing of rocks to accommodate a fence post. The temperature had fallen to barely above freezing. He grinned up at me through mud-flecked teeth when I went out to check on him. “Steel don’t get cold,” he assured me. He and the Wisteria vines that eventually covered that fence are among my finest memories.
Not so fine is my memory of the fence I burned to the ground when I was sent to empty my aunt’s trash into the burning bin located between the garage and the fence. Who knew live embers remained in the bin? Or that paint rags were in the bottom of the trash can I emptied into it? The fire took the fence and a spindly old apricot tree, but the garage was saved while I quaked beneath the bed where I’d hidden.
Purple and yellow Morning Glory vines had always climbed the fence that I reduced to ashes. For as long as she lived, my aunt saw to it that Morning Glory vines continued to climb its replacement.
MARJORIE ANDERSON is an Edmond resident.