Musings, 9/17/2016, by Patricia Feager
While visiting Galveston, TX, I drove through many old neighborhoods that still had the white picket fence. One home with the white picket fence got my attention because there were cats to capture and I just had to take their picture. I watched as the white cat strolled over, walking down the sidewalk, never taking his eyes off me with my camera. There it hooked up with the black and white cat and the two remained, sitting in front of the gate.
I began to think about the white picket fence, that symbol of home ownership, stuck in the minds of many Americans from even before I was born and how it relates to early colonial, social, economic, and social values of the people who came to America or were born and raised in America.
As a kid growing up Chicago style, I recall playing house with the neighborhood kids and we all said, "When I get married, I want "X" of kids, a house and a white picket fence." But where did we get that idea from? I thought about the house I was raised in. Before my grandparents died, it was their house; then my parents. We had an ornamental, black, wrought iron fence between the house and stairs going up to the front porch, then a sidewalk, and a garden closest to the curb with a gray picket fence.
As I drove through the neighborhood in Galveston, I began to see both the white picket fence and black, wrought iron fences in front of people's houses.
As I turned the pages of my mind, I don't recall my father or grandfather doing any maintenance to the black, wrought iron fence. It was built to last and it did from when the house was built in the late 1800's until it was sold in 2006. But then, I started thinking about the picket fence. I don't recall if it was ever a white picket fence because my father always painted it to match the wooden porch steps, bluish gray.
When I got back home, I started doing some research on the symbolism of having a white picket fence. Early historians associated the iconic status as middle-class suburban life: yet I scratched my head because I never lived in the suburbs until I moved to Texas in 1997. My roots are both urban; then rural consisting of wrought iron, picket, chain linked, and barb wire fence. Personally, I never considered a white picket fence as a symbol of success, but I did consider purchasing my first home with a VA Loan to be a major accomplishment because of his self-sacrifices, serving our country for 365 days in Korea, before going to Viet Nam.
As a blue-collar worker, belonging to a Union, my father replaced many picket fences by hand, cutting them to size, shaping the top of the pickets; then painting them and maintaining the fence until the day he died. Working class men and women worked hard and had many skills and they cared more about the elderly, including an explosion of baby boomer children and pets.
Fast forward to today, as a Real Estate Agent in North Texas, I have had many clients and not one ever requested a home with a white-picket fence. I don't know any families who have the luxury of one person staying home with the kids. In my neighborhood, there are no white picket fences or wrought iron fences. Kids don't even play in their yards. In my opinion, today's home-ownership is a symbol of the American hope and I welcome your opinions.
©Patricia Feager, 9/17/2016