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Home » Books & writing

Tell Me a Story About…Fence

Submitted by on April 2, 2010 – 1:05 am 12 Comments

Last night, the hubster and I played that game I’ve featured here a couple times, where one person throws out a random, ordinary word and the other tells whatever story/memory that word triggers. (This is based on something Elizabeth Gilbert wrote about doing with her lover Felipe in her book, Committed.)

The word my husband gave me was “fence.” Here’s my story.

When I was a kid living in Saigon (I don’t know why I always reach way back to childhood memories), my bedroom window overlooked the neighbor’s backyard. Every afternoon, my mother made me go to my room to take a nap, but instead of doing so, I’d spy on the people next door. Not all Rear Window-y with binocs or anything; more like killing time until I could go downstairs and say I’d slept.

Usually, the only thing I ever saw was the old lady next door taking her nap in the backyard hammock. What amused me was she’d wake up with diamond-shaped etchings on one side of her face from the hammock pattern. It made her look like she’d been standing for a long time with her face pressed up against a chain-link fence. I started referring to her as “fence-face lady”—though never to her face—because I didn’t know her name.

One day, after she awoke, she abruptly pulled down her elastic-waist black pajama pants and urinated right there in the yard. (No wonder her grass was always so green.) Seeing the same criss-cross indentations on her rear, I yelped, “Oh no! She has a fence butt, too!” From that moment on, she became fence-butt lady.

I’m not trying to be crude or cute with this story. I honestly still think of her when I hear the word “fence.” I wonder if she got out of Viet Nam after the war, though I’m quite sure she didn’t because most of the older people I knew chose to stay. I can only hope she didn’t end up behind a different kind of fence.

So, what/who do you think of when you hear “fence”? Have you ever been in a Turkish prison?

12 Comments »

  • EIREGO says:

    Hilarious! Fence Butt Lady!!

    Mine is pretty simple. In rural Maine, many property lines are marked very divided by low fences made out of rocks fit together in such a way that they stand for several decades without toppling. My dad used to put these up on the many acres my family owned. They aren’t meant to be imposing or threatening in any way, they are just letting the person know they have crossed onto another person’s fields. My dad tried to teach me the craft of how to make the rocks fit together by using a mason’s hammer. Using the claw, he showed me how to strike any stone to chip the stone just right so it would fit seamlessly upon another rock. It was like making a 3-D puzzle.

    My father passed away in 2005. On a recent trip to visit my family’s land, I noticed most of the rock fences my dad made have been demolished by people who have been slowly stealing acreage from my family’s estate. I live on the other side of the country now and the only brother of mine who actually built a house on our land doesn’t want to do anything about it. He feels it is better to go along to get along in the particular secluded area of Maine. It’s pretty sad to me. It’s not the property so much as the wasted time and effort my dad put in to making what he thought would be permanent. I miss being able to show people examples of my dad’s skills.

    The situation has made me erect a few emotional fences toward my brother and these “neighbors”.

  • ARB says:

    I interned at a theater called Peterborough Players during back in the summer of ’86. Peterborough, NH is the town that Thorton Wilder wrote about in Our Town. But, I digress….

    Interning, as we all know, means working for no money. They did 6 major productions that summer plus a series of one acts showcasing the acting interns. There was only 48 hours between the closing of one show and the remounting of another. This meant we had to strike the entire set of one production had to be torn down and then a rebuild an entirely new one in its place. And don’t forget the rehanging and re-setting of lights up in the rafters. I do indeed mean rafters, too. This was converted barn we were working in! All in 48 hours! (I recently laughed out loud when Catherine Heigl complained of working 17 hour days. Most of her “hours” were spent napping in her trailer)

    Anyway, rebuilding the set meant no one slept for those 48 hours until the new set was in place. If you are an intern, you were guaranteed to be working the entire 48 hours straight. I was poor and working for no money. I was young and foolish and thought I could live an entire summer on $300. Like I said, young and foolish. The good thing about this crazy work schedule is that the staff fed you to make sure you didn’t drop dead on them.

    During one particularly hard strike, I had reached the end of my rope. I had standing on a ladder hanging lights in the rafters of the theater. I was exhausted. An intern, even more tired than I was, was looking for a ladder for something he was on the other side of the stage. Without even looking up, he just took the ladder out from under me. Luckily, I had just put the light in place, so my hands were free to grab onto a beam when I fell. Don’t know how I managed to hold on, but I did, and I was allowed a break while they chewed out the poor guy who had taken the ladder.

    I stepped outside and leaned back against this ancient wooden fence surrounding the property. Thoughts of giving up and just going home danced in my head. The sun was just coming up. I closed my eyes and began to cry silently. I just let it all out, soaking the ground around my feet with tears. Who did I think I was? I wasn’t immortal. Weak with exhaustion, I found myself hugging the fence for support. I know someone was going to come looking for me pretty soon, but I didn’t care. Maybe I would walk away that day. I rubbed my eyes and looked up. A mother deer and two fawns were standing less than a foot from me. Their sweet little faces looked up at me and I just started smiling. They came closer. I dug an apple out of my pocket, broke it in half and fed it to them. It just what I needed.

    Each summer morning after that, I would go to the fence and look for those deer. Sometimes they showed up, sometimes they didn’t, but I got familiar with that fence. I can still remember the wooden splinters I would get from the dried out, unpainted wood. I found it very supporting.

  • Jen Forbus says:

    I have no idea why, but whenever I think of “fence” two things immediately pop into mind for me. The first being my own chain-link fence that is in horrible condition and needs to be replaced. I, however, choose to jet off to California twice this year, so that won’t be happening. But I guess years ago when this fence would have been put up, they left the jagged edges of the chain link at the top, so I always have to watch my dogs who want to rear up on the fence and “greet” all the people who walk by. Those ends are sharp and could hurt their paws.

    The other odd thing that pops into my mind is that episode of Law and Order: CI with Corbin Bernson, where he tied himself to the fence, do you remember that? I don’t know why that sticks in my head…

    I love the fence-butt lady story, though. I’m sure I won’t be able to forget that one!

  • Poncho says:

    No way I could beat fence-butt! Or anyone, for that matter. But here’s my story:

    The thing that comes to mind when you say the word “fence” (“reja” in mexican spainsh) is my first time driving a car ever. My dad decided it would be a good time to start teaching me some skills behind the wheel when I was about 14 years-old, so he asked me to park the car in the garage. My house’s got an outdoors garage with a fence right beside the sidewalk.

    So I got behind the wheel, started the car -which was lined up to the entrance- stepped on the accelerator carefully and went forward. What I didn’t notice is that the steering-wheel was a little bent to the left and I was certain, silly me, my dad would’ve left the car facing directly to the entrance.

    So I crashed with my house’s fence. Yup. Not very hard, because I wasn’t going fast or anything, but I did crash and my dad yelled angrily (I swear if 10 or so years ago you heard a desperate cry coming from nowhere, it must’ve been my dad about to tear my head apart).

    Nothing happened to the car, but the fence is still a little bent. My dad calls it a reminder.

  • Christine says:

    Was laughing when you said she just dropped trow for a whizz, but the Fence-butt moniker did me in! LMAO!

    My first thought was a visual I had of my in-laws’ Ohio horse farm in winter. They have split rail fences around all the pastures. When the temps would rise above freezing and the sun was out the snow would have melted away except these perfect outlines of snow on the ground in the shadows of the fence rails. I always thought these snow-shadows (for lack of a better phrase) were really lovely.

    As always, really enjoy this game and the stories people share.

  • le0pard13 says:

    This one is generating some great stories from everyone. I don’t have anything personal to relate, except… my younger brother. When we were young, my kid brother always seemed to get into clumsy accidents that would result in permanent scarring. He’s the only kid I knew who could fall while playing around and look like he needed a blood transfusion afterward. He must have been 3/4 years old when took a face plant while goofing outside the car (waiting for mom to get back from inside a store). But, he couldn’t just bump that noggin on the parking lot. Nooo… he had to land with his forehead on the part with broken glass! [insert bloody towel memory here]

    Back to the fence story. Chain link seemed to be the ubiquitous form of fencing where we lived as kids. However, we aren’t talking about the ones with the properly nibbed top portion of chain link. Nope. I’m talking about the kind that’s going rip your pant legs (or other parts) as you attempt to go over it (and thus discourage anyone attempting such a breach). You can see where this is going, can’t you? One day, this young genius attempted to climb such a border. Four foot tall fence, and he’s about 3.5 ft. himself. Up he scaled… and when he got that scarred head just over the top of the fence, he slipped. Impaled chin… and another bloody towel commemoration.

    Of course, he never told his own kids these stories. That’s the job of their uncle ;-). Thanks, PCN.

  • Your story would be quite at home on The Simpsons, PCN! As for me, the first thing that comes to mind is that a few palings have just been replaced on my fence and I still need to paint them. How dull is that!! To compensate, though, I’m thinking of painting them in a bright colour. Something that doesn’t match the rest of the fence at all. Something that the neighbours can look at and say, “Nice fence – but lady, the colour’s don’t match.” 🙂

  • Pop Culture Nerd says:

    Not only do I love these stories, I love how this exercise allows me to get to know you a little better. Thank you for sharing them.

    EIREGO—I’m sorry to hear about your dad’s fences being demolished. I hope those emotional barriers you’ve erected against your brother, though, don’t get too high.

    ARB—It’s like you were Cinderella and animal friends came out of the forest to comfort you!

    Jen—I don’t watch L&O:CI so I don’t know that ep. I think you made the right decision, though, about where to put your money because the trips will be a blast and the fence can be fixed any time!

    Poncho—You make me laugh, as usual! This reminds me of my younger brother. My dad would let him drive the car into/out of our driveway when he was 11 and the car was stick shift. He, er, didn’t crash into any fences, though.

    Christine—Isn’t it wonderful how you can find beauty even in shadows? I’m so glad you enjoy this game. It’s the amazing responses that make it great.

    lp13—What happened to your scar-friendly brother wasn’t funny but the way you tell the stories had me rolling. Of COURSE he had to land his forehead on the part of the parking lot with broken glass! And how he’d just cleared his little scarred head over the fence when he slipped. Like I said, NOT funny, but hilarious.

    Shell-–I’m imagining you painting them fuchsia or turquoise…not dull at all!

  • Paulette says:

    “Don’t Fence Me In”

    I am always amazed when driving through neighborhoods (the rural South) where there are no fences between properties…

    I recall a time when I was a seven or eight years old and a section of our fence blew down during a huge Santa Ana. That downed fence became my river raft that magically transported me down the Mississsip ala Huck and even served as a makeshift stage for impromptu play productions! The dogs ran freely between yards as did the humans. Things were never quite the same when the fence was eventually repaired. Such fond memories!

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