The Fence Painter


To Joyce. Because of you, every day is Valentine’s Day.

According to Tom Sawyer, nothing makes roses more colorful than a white picket fence. It’s why he got into painting fences in the first place. That, and because he loves the rhythmic motion of painting — up and down, back and forth. And no one does it better than him. Outside contractors try stealing his customers, but there’s nothing like hiring one of your own, someone who loves what they do and does a good job at it.

Funny, with a name like Tom Sawyer, you’d think painting fences would be the last thing you’d see Tom Sawyer doing. He just smiles and says, “painting fences isn’t for everyone.” He likes reading Twain, but admits that The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is his least favorite of the Mark Twain books. “I like Life on the Mississippi.” Tom’s never been on that river, nor has he been to Mississippi. But someday he intends to visit at least one of them and discover his adventurous side.

He’s been painting fences for 35 years. He started in high school, painted his way through college, then decided to keep going with it. He works alone because he enjoys the solitude and feels he can work faster if he’s not tripping over someone else. He once painted a fence purple at a customer’s request, but most of the time people ask for white. His customers like him so much that 4 years ago, they got together and passed a law banning PVC fences in the village. Tom Sawyer will never run out of work. In fact, there’ll be enough wooden fences for future Tom Sawyers after this Tom Sawyer hangs up his brush. Which isn’t going to happen any time soon. For starters, Tom Sawyer doesn’t have any kids, let alone a son. And he plans on painting well into the 2000s if he has anything to say about it.

Lately, though, things have looked un-Tom Sawyer like around here. You see, Tom met a girl on the west side of our river about 6 months back, and he’s been so gaga over her he’s neglected his business, which means he’s neglected the fine folks of this village. The same folks who banned PVC fences so Tom Sawyer would never run out of work. And while Tom Sawyer crosses the bridge every day to go over to the west side to do Lord knows what with this new girl of his, all the fences in the village are peeling and flaking, and looking so darn drab that even the roses are turning blue.

Town folks got so angry one night last week, about 30 of us lit our lanterns and marched right across that bridge to find out what she’s got that our fences don’t. And, uh, well – she’s got a lot more goin’ for her than we suspected. I suppose if our village wasn’t so set in our ways, we’d have a thing for her, too. First thing we noticed was her curb appeal. Long, red hair, smells like a Cover Girl, and makes the world’s best salami sandwich. Just as we were about to tell Tom Sawyer that we don’t blame him for spending more time here with her than there with us, Tom said, “I’ve got good news! Mona and me are getting married. And after we get back from our honeymoon, I’m gonna catch up on all those fences I’ve been putting off. I’m sorry I haven’t been around much. But I’ve been so happy lately, and for the first time in my life something besides work has me smiling all the time, I don’t know what I’m sayin’…I guess I’m just ramblin’ now.”

After Tom Sawyer’s revelation, we felt guilty before feeling happy. After all, we came over here because we wanted our fence painter back. Did we ever take the time to realize that Tom Sawyer may have needs? Probably not. Has he not always been there for us? He has. I think there’s a lesson here. Good things happen to good people who stick around long enough.

Illustrated by Joyce Sajovie

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