Do you remember when neighbors used to converse over the backyard, (or sideyard) fence? It was the beginning of the internet that we play on now. A free and open exchange of information was there when the day was good to hang the wash out. Some would call it gossip.

In my book it's not gossip if it contains even one kernel of the truth. Those were also the times when if you had a phone, you had a party line. Courtesy on the party line was if you picked up the phone and heard other voices on it,,,you hung up. Sometimes you could even say.."Oooppss. Sorry!" before you hung up.

You NEVER admitted to hearing some piece of juicy information on the party line. My Grandma was a party line spy. I could always tell when she was listening in by looking at how she held the phone. Those days it was the two piece phone with the earpiece attached to the stalk where the mouth piece was. If she was holding the mouthpiece with her hand covering it and the earpiece welded to her ear... SHE WAS LISTENING!

My Mom rarely did that. (Notice that I say 'rarely' and not 'never'...) The next washday the back fences would be filled from one end of the block to the other. She never did say where she heard what she was repeating, just "Someone said that...." Those were the days where the Village raised the children. It was easy then because you knew as much about your neighbors kids as you did about your own. Like the fact that Jimmy had been caught behind the garage smoking one of his daddy's cigarettes. That meant that the 'Neighborhood Watch' would be carefully scanning the amount of time kids spent out of sight. And would be sniffing the wind for smells of purloined Camels. If you caught Jimmy doing that, you weren't entitled to a reward, but Jimmy's mom might hand you a fresh baked apple tart the next day. "I baked too much and I didn't want it to go to waste."

You knew and she knew and Jimmy definitely knew! He wasn't likely to get dessert for a month and besides he had had his teeth brushed with Lava hand soap to discourage his nasty habit. Once he turned 16 and made a few of his own bucks he could buy all the Camels he wanted.

The Ladies of the Fence knew it before anyone else! Mrs. Milkowitz wasn't getting fat at all like her husband thought....She was going to have another baby! She hadn't told him about it yet because he would just about Plotz! She already had 5 kids and the Fence Ladies had known about it when she was only two days late. Mr. Milkowitz was going to need another job and at least that may have made him tired enough so there wouldn't be a seventh Milkowitz...maybe.

Spousal abuse was also acknowledged by the Fence Ladies. They would hear Mr. Rooney coming in his door and yelling and swearing at his wife and kids. They sometimes would hear Mrs. Rooney scream and cry. It wasn't unusual to see Meg decorated with black eyes and bruises. One time they saw her with her arm in a cast. She tried to tell them she had fallen down the stairs. They had heard the fight the day before and although they said things like..."Oh..that's too bad! Let us know if we can help you at all."

One of them, I think it was my Mom and her friend Mrs. Santucci who was also a pillar of the church, who went to the priest and told him about what they were seeing and hearing. He put on his 'serious' cassock and went to the "E-Z Saloon" where he knew he could find Mr. Rooney. He and Mr. Rooney took a walk. (Father Dolan was built like a All-Star Football Player and had an Irish temper as well.) Father Dolan walked him home and went in to have a word with Meg. Things quieted down after that.

The Ladies of the Fence were a sorority. There was no problem joining it. All you had to do was show a willingness to lean on the fence and discuss whatever issues that came up. Some didn't have as much clout as others because they demonstrated a willingness to pass on information to people who didn't have any need to know. If they had elected a president it would have been Mrs. Santucci. She was the one who was first to hand down any baby clothes and diapers. If your husband had been laid off, she always seemed to have "Cooked too much, don't want it to spoil. Do me a favor and feed your family and say a prayer for me." She was first at the door if someone died. There were times when she beat the undertaker there and would deal with him for the family. When Mrs. Santucci said she would pray for you, she didn't leave it all up to God. She could find jobs that no one ever knew about. She had three grown children and she always had a couple of grandkids at her house. She would round up some of the neighborhood kids and take the whole bunch of them for walks. She always supplied them with ice cream afterwards.

We have lost a lot with the internet....maybe we should go out in the yard and head for the fence?

By Swampetta (




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