The picket fence in the background was something of a neighborhood project. Without the help of family, friends, neighbors and virtual strangers, I’d still be sulking around St. Pete, grumbling about my fugly front yard.
Oh, but I love my house.
Well. Let me rephrase that. I’ve always loved the inside of my house. It’s got a cozy bungalow feel. It’s filled with comfortable furniture, meaningful art, an adorable
toddler tyrant, a handsome husband and a fat, happy pug. What more could a gal want?
The front of my house, however, has always been a sore spot. Up until last month it had zero curb appeal. Our lawn was balding. Our once valiant attempt at a vegetable garden had become an angry bed of weeds, littered with bent fragments of metal fencing and forgotten plant markers. Our porch was about as inviting as a parking lot. With the exception of an overly shellacked manatee statue – a gift form my Oma – the entrance to our house was, in fact, off-putting.
We did try to jazz things up. Or rather, well-meaning family gardeners tried to jazz things up.
Two years ago, Oma took pity on us and came over when I was at work to lay down mulch and plant flowers in the sad beds by our front door. Despite diligent watering, her landscaping eventually gave way to weeds. Fed up with these failed attempts at beautification, we decided to let the one thing that wouldn’t die continue to grow – a frail Jacaranda tree in the center of our circular driveway that resembled a stooped-over geriatric.
More than once our neighbor asked us when we were going to cut it down. This neighbor is so meticulous with his yard he maintains it with tweezers.
When I was gainfully employed I thought I’d hire a contractor to build us a porch. That dream was shattered when the estimates came in at $9,000, which was impossible to swing after I left the paper to go freelance. I’d just about given up hope when a neighbor four houses up offered to give us (I repeat: give us) 75 feet of picket fence.
“Seriously?” I asked. “No charge?”
“No charge,” he said. “It was given to me and I have no use for it, so it’s all yours. I know how badly you want to dress up your front yard.”
Apparently my bitching had reached a new high. I barely knew this guy. He was new to town, a transplant from Oregon OF ALL PLACES.
So we took the fence off his hands. Our guardian yard angel even helped us stack it in the backyard. A month later, I shamelessly put my visiting superhuman parents to work. Using tools borrowed from two neighbors, we laid nearly all 75 feet of fence in our front yard.
The project took two full days and cost us less than $200 – the price of 10 bags of concrete, five boxes of stainless steel screws, four bags of grass seed, seven bags of mulch, two stepping stones and a handful of plants that my resourceful mother arranged in our neglected flower beds. My parents could blow circles around Bob Vila. They re-purposed bricks and edging. They planted clippings from other neighbors’ yards. My father dug 12 holes using only a garden trowel because he was afraid a large shovel might break our precious fiber optic cable line. I served as a hapless assistant. Henry served as a curious pest. The pug christened every post.
A week later, I tracked down the perfect $100 patio set on craigslist. Its owner delivered it for $20 in a convertible car. She even brought four outdoor pillows that matched the mosaic table top.
I was so grateful I baked her vanilla cupcakes.
A thorough pressure washing and a children’s Adirondack chair completed our Curb Appeal makeover. When it was over I felt a little like we’d had a barn raising. Anyone within a five-block radius stopped by to admire the transformation. The neighbors who loaned us tools got cupcakes. The guy who gave us the fence got a lot of cupcakes.
Even our mailman was impressed.
“You’re living the American dream,” he said. “White picket fence and all.”
My father gets a lot of the credit. He devoted 48 hours of his vacation to this HGTV project.
For all his hard work he’ll get the reward of not having to lift a finger on his next visit to Florida. (This is unheard of in a house that has a never-ending Daddy Do List.)
The first time I asked him to install the fence he balked at the idea. He didn’t see the point in putting up a fence that didn’t offer privacy. Yet, when he cemented the final post, stepped back from his handiwork and cracked his last beer, he decided he had been wrong.
I’m not a private person. I’m a picket fence person. Had I been a private person I’d have never gotten a free fence.