I grew up in a house with a white picket fence. I know that sounds like a cliche, but it’s the truth. The house was a two-story Cape with a wrap-around porch, rosebushes everywhere, a big yard with the requisite shade tree right in the middle of it, and a two-car garage at the end of a perfectly paved driveway. The fence pulled the whole thing together and made the house look like something out of a child’s picture book.
The picket fence was painted every year. It was always white. My businessman father would take two full weekends to inspect and repair any problems, then painstakingly paint each section of wood, one at a time. It was as though the beauty of his house reflected upon him and the whole family.
But then there came the year that my father didn’t paint the fence. He wasn’t feeling well enough.
Then came the next year, when we said goodbye and buried my father on a cold, rainy November day.
The fence became neglected. The paint became worn. One corner began to sag. The fence looked just as tired as my mother seemed to feel.
Then one morning during the first blush of spring, she came out to the yard and looked at the fence. She looked at the rosebushes. She looked back at the house. She stood there was though trying to decide on something important. Finally, she took a deep breath and hollered for me in a strong and determined voice.
“Honey, get your old clothes on! We’ve got work to do!”
My mother threw open every window in the house, letting the spring air flow in. She took down the curtains, giving license to the sunlight to stream in through the windows. She pulled her hair up in a pretty bandana and slipped on her flip-flops. She hauled cans of paint out of the garage and tossed me a bag of nails as she grabbed the hammer.
“We’re going to make this place new again,” she promised.
I watched as she inspected every board. She wielded the hammer like she had always known how to use it — though I had never seen her pick it up before that day. She nailed and straightened and reinforced. She made the fence strong and sturdy again.
Then she opened the cans of paint. She looked at the white paint for a while, shaking her head.
“This won’t do,” she said.
She looked at me with a wide smile. I hadn’t seen that big of a smile in years. “Let’s go to the store.”
And off we went. She headed straight for the exterior paints. She passed up all the usual suspects, searched through the options, and then took a few paint cards to the man at the counter. “I want this,” she pointed.
The man looked at the card and raised an eyebrow. “Yes, ma’am.”
That weekend, our white picket fence was transformed. It was now a beautiful shade of red, the kind of cheery red that spoke of new beginnings. But my mother didn’t stop there. She painted the shutters and the front door, and then painted the front steps to, for good measure.
“It was his favorite color,” she said when we were finished. Then she put the cans in the garage, wiped the tears from her eyes and stood back to look at the fence, the house, and me.
“Perfect,” she said.
The rosebushes blossomed. The neighbors stared and smiled. Our house was again filled with light and laughter, fond remembrance and new beginnings. From that day on the red picket fence stood straight and tall, and so did my mother.