“I can’t look at hobbles and I can’t stand fences” from “Don’t Fence Me In”, Cole Porter
Constructing wood fence in the early sixties was my first grown up job. Having moved on from paper boy, caddy and haying on a diary farm for $1 per hour cash when I was fifteen, my father introduced me to three brothers and their father, Vito. Each brother practiced a specialty with their own companies, but they conferred daily, so that an employee once hired shifted from installing fence to installing swimming pools and driveways or framing houses, all of which I did when I turned 16. I settled into the fence business primarily and worked through high school and most of college. When I turned eighteen, I was awarded my own small crew, a large stake body truck and got paid by the foot. In a productive week, I could earn two hundred and fifty dollars, a modest fortune in 1965.
We were expected every day to put in twenty sections of six foot cedar picket fence with a gate or thirty sections of post and rail a day. Each post for a six foot fence was buried roughly thirty inches deep. If it was sandy and light, a hole could be dug with our hand posthole diggers in under ten minutes. If we ran into what we called “hard pan” – packed clay that felt like rock – and ran into large stones in our hole, one post could take a half an hour of sweat. For this tough digging, a posthole digger alone was inadequate, and we would thump away with a heavy iron bar to loosen each grueling scoop. The bar was hexagonal in section, weighed fifteen pounds, about fifty inches and sharpened to a point on a stone wheel grinder. No power augurs for us.
Each day we would be assigned to a customer’s home, loading up in the morning the right amount of fence panels, line posts, end posts, corner posts and gates to erect in wood the sketch and specifications agreed to in the contract the owners signed with our salesperson, Eddie. We built calluses and muscle; and many days were an adventure. The north shore of Boston, where land was dear and the ground hard, was most challenging. Once a neighbor came out and spotted the thick string we stretched along the lot line and against which we planned to dig holes and install a fence. He ran into his house, came out with a hatchet and cut our line in five or six pieces. I told our customer we’d come back when he sorted out his border dispute. No extra charge for the lost line.
Occasionally a big job would take more than one day, and we would return to a site. One such project was over four hundred feet of six foot fence around a oversized lot in Revere in which a new in ground swimming pool had been bedded. Most people with a new pool surrounded it with an unassuming enclosure to meet the building code and prevent uninvited kids from drowning. This family wrapped their entire yard. One motive for this barricade became apparent the first afternoon, when the seventeen year old daughter came out to tan in a bikini that failed to cover much of anything. My distracted crew soldiered on. They hoped the next day would be sunny.
“A bikini is like a barbed wire fence. It protects the property without obscuring the view.” Joey Adams
Her parents remained on the property all day, which seemed odd to us. In 1965 most men who had money enough for pool and fence were at work themselves. The father was a handsome Italian in his early forties, unpretentious, reserved, but friendly, who brought us cold drinks and snacks. The second day he charcoal grilled us hamburgers for lunch. I respected customers who took care of the crew – not only for their kindness – but for their intelligence to extract quality workmanship from the young men who wanted to please them. When we finished, he tipped us generously in cash.
I told Eddie about the family (including the daughter), and he responded with a cautionary tale. The father made a lucrative business out of killing people. This affable soft spoken father would get on a plane from time to time, fly to Las Vegas or Detroit or Kansas City, spend a day or two and come home with a lot of cash. Some other father in Las Vegas, Detroit or Kansas City wouldn’t come home. Although locally affiliated, he never worked close to home. I accused Eddie of making up one of his frequent stories, and he remained silent and unsmiling. Eddie knew things. A few months later during an outbreak of the murderous gang wars between the Italian mob and Whitey Bulger’s Winter Hill gang, I read in the Boston Globe of a body dumped in my old fence customer’s driveway – not his.
“Don’t ever take a fence down unless you know the reason it was put up.” Robert Frost
I was reminded of the story this week when reading about the Federal circuit court decision upholding the new Texas law that required doctors doing abortions to maintain admitting privileges in a hospital within thirty miles of their clinics. (Bear with me for the connection.) Supporters of unfettered abortion claim this law is restrictive to a woman’s “right” to take her child’s life, even though the law specifically states it is to protect women’s health when there are complications, such as excessive bleeding, sepsis or a perforated uterus. The defender’s rationale is that abortion doctors often come from other states or at least from a far flung part of Texas, so they don’t admit enough patients to qualify for hospital privileges.
Elaborating, they contend that it is necessary for these doctors to live other than where they ply their trade because abortion protesters make it uncomfortable or even dangerous for them. We’ve know many of these “abortion protestors” who “intimidate” these doctors. Almost all of them are armed with rosary beads or an occasional sign.
Could it be that they live in other states or locations hundreds of miles away because they prefer to fly in from their home environs, do their work for a day or two and fly home, while at least half their patients won’t ever go home? The neighbors and their daughters may never know how their parents pay for the pool.
“Euphemism is a human device to conceal the horrors of reality.” Paul Johnson
One response to ““Don’t Fence Me In””
Pingback: A Fair Hourly Wage | Quo Vadis? Jack's Blog