MY FATHER'S FENCE

by Garry Eaton


 
Unemployed, and staying temporarily with my parents during my Dad's last serious illness, I look around for something to do to feel useful besides drying the dishes. The backyard fence is missing some boards and needs paint, and Dad will never get to this now, so I locate enough lumber and other supplies in the garage to get started. There's even some paint--not enough for a proper job, but the thirsty old cedar will just have to make do.
 
As for Dad, I think he's almost beyond caring what the fence looks like now. Always the hard working, hard drinking 'man's man,' he takes what refuge he can from old age, declining health, and a marriage that no longer interests him by drinking rather more than he should. Lately, he's had to face yet another painful dilemma reminding him of his failure, a son nearing thirty, but still on shaky legs, financially and professionally. 'Boomerang boy! When I was his age…'
 
Though I didn't disclose it, I had a plan--to spend this hiatus at home with him, perhaps do some little home repair projects, and hope it might mark a new beginning, or mend a difference before it's too late. But I hesitate at first to begin. Such efforts might not be welcome just now.

minefield ..
deep footpaths
crisscross this mud

Just to see what happens, however, I start banging around with a hammer early next morning before anyone else is up. At breakfast nobody objects, so by Sunday, despite a few mishaps, I've set several new posts in concrete, replaced some split rails and pickets and a rusty hinge, scraped, sanded and applied an undercoating over all, and ended with a flourish in a thin topcoat of white. As I stand in the middle of the yard, admiring the property's new air of respectability, and wondering if anybody will notice, Dad comes out of the house in his old grey sweater--to inspect. So far today he's sober, though tired, and seems to be in a good mood. After jiggling a few posts, and sighting with his eye down the fence line a couple of times, he appears satisfied. Though supposed to have quit smoking months ago, he lights up two and hands me one, and we enjoy a smoky moment together in the autumn sun. Then out of the blue, he says he still misses the smell of burning leaves, and I hear sadness in his voice. Before turning back into the house, he smiles at me and remarks without apparent irony that maybe I should have been a painter instead of a poet. I nod. Good one!
 
It was his only comment about the fence, and my last real effort to make amends, somehow, for the many ways I'd failed him. I was away working that winter when his life came to a sudden end.

heart disease . . .
the stone I drop on his coffin lid
a final thump

(First published in Contemporary Haibun Online, vol 4 no 1, March 2008)

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