Remembering a Time When Short Fences Kept Folks Friendly

A Low White Picket Fence Was All We Needed in the Day

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We knew our neighbors well. we had two big white ducks in those days, and our neighbors, the Nelson family, ( yes there really was a Nelson family next door) and Mrs. Nelson was a fine baker, so we would give her our duck eggs for her baking and in return she would share all her wonderful cakes and pies with us. what a beautiful time of like that was.

Anyone who grew up during the 1940s and 50s remembers a time before tall backyard fences were erected to insure privacy , to separate property lines and help create separate lives.

Today, not only the structure of our neighborhoods has changed but also its personality. High fences now separate each neighbor’s home from the other, insuring privacy and marking property lines. These 6ft high fences are a sharp contrast to my childhood days, when visiting over the backyard fence was a common courtesy.

In those days, a 3-foot-high fence surrounded our property on Terra Bella Avenue. The short fence gave each family member an ample view of the neighbor’s backyard. We could easily see one another carrying out our routine chores – mowing the lawn, raking leaves, shelling the walnut harvest, planting our vegetable gardens, burning the autumn leaves and carrying out the trash.

cookie see saw.On laundry day, we could count the socks on each others’ wash lines. In the spring, we could compare the peach crops on our patio trees. Come fall, the aroma of burning leaves from a neighbor’s yard drifted pleasantly through the air, and in the summer the constant squeak and bounce of our neighbor’s screen door was as common to us as the sound of our own back door. I can still hear Mrs. Nelson calling to her boys next door, “Don’t let the screen door slam!” No sooner had she finished the sentence than the door would slam shut with a bang!

Most days, it wasn’t unusual to find our neighbor’s dog, Poolie, wrestling happily with an old shoe in our back yard, while my cat, Tubby, nestled next door on the roof of Poolie’s doghouse. Our waist-high picket fence made it easy to talk to neighbors, relating family news and household events.

Watching our families change and grow, celebrating our joys and sharing each other’s losses, created a special bond of friendship between neighbors.

The enticing smell of Dad’s smoky outdoor barbecue was always an open invitation for our neighbors to come over and sample his latest recipe for barbecued ribs.

A backyard party on a warm summer night or a family celebration always included our good neighbors, the Furderers, Minervas, Nelsons and Herolds. A quick call over the back fence or a welcoming wave of the hand was the only invitation needed. The afternoon aroma of freshly perked coffee was a signal that Mom and neighbors Dorothy and Janice were sitting down to a friendly chat over steaming cups of coffee, sharing a little story or family advice, before returning to their busy work day.

Most households owned family dogs, and each morning they alerted the neighborhood to the arrival of the milkman with a cacophony of barks and howls. Funny thing is, no one was ever bothered by these noises; they were all just part of everyday living – the normal sounds of life in progress.

On lazy summer days the neighborhood rang with the squeals of kids as they climbed walnut trees, ran through arcs of water made by a garden hose or jumped from tire swings that dangled on front-yard trees.

Today, our desire for seclusion and safety has led us to erect 6-foot high reinforced fences around our property, making it difficult, at best, to even hear our neighbors, let alone see them and sustain a lasting friendship. Often, they move in and out without so much as a “hello” or “good-bye.” With every gain there’s a loss. Yes, we’ve gained our precious privacy and with it the loss of chatting with a favorite neighbor over the backyard fence.

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Cookie Curci is an experienced freelance writer, born and raised in San Jose, California. Cookie writes syndicated columns across the country, and wrote a “Remember When” column for The Willow Glen Resident for 15 years. Her work has been published in 15 Chicken Soup for The Soul books, and in the series of “Mother’s Miracle” books ( Morrow books).

She has a short story in the new book “ELVIS”, Live at the Sahara Tahoe; has been published in San Francisco Chronicle, San Jose Mercury news, Woman’s World, Primo magazine, Mature Living, and many websites.

Cookie is currently writing for several Italian American newspapers and magazines, they include LaVoce Las Vegas, Amici Journal, L’italo Americano, Life in Italy and Italiansrus.