Picket Fence

Autumn wins you best by this,
its mute appeal to sympathy for its decay.
-Robert Browning
British poet and playwright

I’d always wanted a house with a picket fence. Today, mine is painted hunter green to match my house trim. It was thrown up in a frenzy by two Pelican Bay parolees after my brother, who recommended their cheap house painting skills, told them three-and-a-half weeks to paint a cottage was akin to armed robbery and they needed to go. He may have mentioned the ease, with a simple phone call, of re-incarceration. I wasn’t present for the discussion, but the pickets were not primed and the posts were stuck in raw dirt, right beside the sprinkler heads. That was about four years ago.

Then my thirty-something son, Horace, moved in last winter. I’d hopefully named him Horace after Horace Greeley, famous for the admonishment: “Go West, young man!” From here in the Sacramento Valley, that would mean Hawaii or the Philippines. Anyway, he decided, after working as a bell hop in a San Francisco hotel, that maybe he should consider another line of work. While that’s a laudable goal, I wasn’t consulted about my interest in other people’s career transitions, but I like to think of myself as a good sport.

Horace found fault with my picket fence. The latex trim paint had peeled, he noticed. It’s true. Lack of primer and any other protection left the wood vulnerable to the talons of wandering crows and spray from the sprinklers. A few weeks ago, in a pique over some of my thoroughly cataloged short comings, Horace decided to rectify the fence, a useless decorative feature, I was told, that really doesn’t add to the value of the property. Given the depth of the economic crisis, I suggested a rotten picket fence hardly mattered.

So, the fence came down. Trips to Home Depot added more than $100 to my credit card debt, the garage was commendered and I park my car outside, which is scary, given the amount of car theft going on in my declining neighborhood. The shrubbery is splotched with white primer, the garage floor is dotted with hunter green, a half dozen paint brushes have been ruined. I bought a new electric sander and packs of heavy grit sandpaper. The fence is almost back together.

Yesterday, while Horace worked in the velvety warmth of fall, aspen leaves flitting around his shapely head, my neighbor caught me coming home from work, admired the fence, commented that it sure was taking a long time, perhaps conjuring visions of Pelican Bay. I allowed that that was true, smiled indulgently, thought longingly about taking off my heels and putting on flip flops, pointed out how good the fence looked. My son glanced up at us, spat: “Shut the fuck up!” and continued smearing paint. In glazed silence, my neighbor and I basked briefly in autumn’s waning glow then broke away.

Later, Horace mentioned a section of the rehabbed fence is so rotten it can’t be saved, that I need to buy another pre-fabbed piece. Home Depot. $25. I asked if it was needed immediately or could it wait? That has been the extent of our conversation for several days. Now, under the radiance of a harvest moon and the flitting of amber leaves upon my browning grass, I dare not appeal for sympathy due to the decay of my picket fence. Instead, filled with the season’s mute grace, I yank paddles from the garage rafters, preparing for another young man to follow Greeley’s advice and push West.

Painting by Donald Maier: fineartamerica.com/profiles/donaldmaier.html

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