Southern women of a certain age all seemed to instinctively know the proper growing and pruning seasons for a variety of plants, how to fry chicken to a delectable golden crispness, brew iced tea, sweeten it to perfection and set a proper table with their fine china and heirloom silver. Charlotte was at the tail end of this generation of refinement, but had not been genetically gifted with knowing when to cut back her crepe myrtle or plant her impatiens or when to turn her chicken to keep it from burning or her tea from clouding; however, she could set a table even if she had nothing to bring to it. Undeterred, she occasionally tempted the southern fates and ventured into her garden or delved into her Paula Deen cookbooks.
After her 75 year old sewer line gave up the ghost and had to be resurrected from the yard, Charlotte decided to put the freshly turned and fertile dirt to good use. On a whim, she drove to ACE Hardware to purchase several packets of zinnia seeds. Charlotte had heard zinnias were easy to grow. By the time she pulled her car into the parking lot, she had already visualized her backyard alive with color. Once in ACE, she stationed herself in front of the rows of seed packets and pretended to know what she was doing. Since the store was tiny, Charlotte couldn’t help but over hear another middle aged woman prattle on about her latest paint project to the several clerks assisting her with her selection. Apparently the woman’s husband had found a younger model and left her high and dry, warranting a new coat of paint for the master bedroom. Several times the woman sighed, “Now, it’s just me doing the work.” Charlotte winced at the rookie mistake. She wanted to go over and put her arm around the woman’s shoulders and tell her, “Honey, no one needs to know all of that. Don’t play the victim. It is not becoming.” Charlotte had also watched enough episodes of 48 Hours and Dateline to know seedy criminals thrived on vulnerable middle aged women just ripe for the picking.
After purchasing her seeds, Charlotte drove home wondering why it was Southern women of a certain age felt the need to apologize for their single status. Maybe it had something to do with a perfectly fried chicken going to waste and place settings for one. Whatever the reason, most days Charlotte fought the urge to assume the role of distressed damsel. Perhaps that is why later in the afternoon she accepted a friend’s Facebook invitation to An Old Fashioned Fence Pulling. She had the prerequisite hammer and no plans for the following Saturday. Why not learn a new skill? Lila, her husband and their two sons had recently moved to 10 acres in the country, and needed to fence in part of their land in order to bring home their sheep from a neighboring farm. It all sounded so picturesque and right out of a novel. With pastoral visions floating through her imagination, Charlotte scoured the house for her seldom used hammer, and considered buying a few acres and her own sheep. After all, she would soon know what it meant to pull a fence.
The morning of the fence pull, Charlotte hurriedly dressed and typed Lila’s address into her GPS. It promised to be an exciting day. She hadn’t gone very far, when she realized her hammer was still on the table in her foyer. Undaunted, Charlotte turned the car around to fetch the hammer. Once she was again on her way, the gas light appeared on her dash. Charlotte remembered Lila saying something about there not being much out her way, so Charlotte stopped to gas up just to be safe. Back in her car, Charlotte drove into the Georgia countryside. Fog hovered over the road lending a dreamy quality to the trip. Had she not already been tardy, she would have pulled her car over and taken a picture of the hazy landscape.
When Charlotte finally turned into the drive she could see 10 or so people already hard at work she presumed pulling the fence. Lila’s sons picked her up in their golf cart and drove her to the work site. Everywhere she looked there was something beautiful to see, like the small pond shrouded in fog, or the patch of sunflowers turning their velvety brown faces to the sky. Climbing off the cart, Charlotte for the first time questioned her sanity as she saw the heavy farm equipment she couldn’t name and bales of barbed wire. Why hadn’t she thought to bring work gloves? Lila spotted Charlotte and stopped what she was doing and came over to greet her, “Hey Charlotte, thanks for comin.’ Let me show you what we’re doin.’ It’s easy once you get the hang of it.”
Lila’s relaxed manner put Charlotte at ease as she followed behind her friend. As they walked, Lila introduced her to the others. “We’ve been out here since 6. John had to put in the fence posts before we could do anything else.” She motioned to her neighbor, a sturdy man busily directing a group of men pulling a bale of the barbed wire. Lila fished a strange u-shaped looking nail out of a bucket and began hammering it in one of the fence posts, securing the barbed wire at the top. The nail went in effortlessly. “You wanna try?” Charlotte nodded and pulled out another nail from the bucket and went to the next post repeating what Lila had done. Since she had never hammered a nail into anything other than sheetrock, it took a while to secure the wire, but she did it. The fence consisted of a strand of barbed wire stretched from evenly spaced posts both at the top and bottom. In between the barbed wire was a section of what looked like chicken wire, only the openings were square and much further apart. It too needed to be attached to the posts in several places with the u-shaped nails. There was a rhythm to the entire procedure, and Charlotte didn’t want to be the one to throw it off.
She began working next to another woman, Betsy, who also had no prior fence pulling experience, but seemed to take to it much quicker than Charlotte. After they had been working 15 minutes or so, Lila’s sister, Emma arrived and was shown what to do. The three women moved behind the men helping each other hold the wire while one or the other hammered. The goal was not to get caught in the face by the barbed wire or hit a finger instead of the nail. As they worked, Emma declared the three “The Barbed Wire Girls”, and they laughed as much as they hammered.
Feeling overly confident, Charlotte said, “I feel very Amish!” As soon as the words came out of her mouth, she began to struggle. It seemed as though the posts were not all the same density. It became more difficult to hammer the nails into the wood, and she needed help. After one of John’s son’s had to come and knock in the third nail she had started, Charlotte was no longer feeling the least bit Amish. John also came over sensing her frustration and said, “Your hammer is hamstringing you! You can’t do an industrial job with a residential hammer.” Charlotte was relieved. It wasn’t entirely her fault. She was only as good as her equipment. But after the men walked away, she confided to the other Barbed Wire Girls, she identified with Zsa Zsa Gabor’s Green Acres character. Emma laughed and said, “All you need is pearls.” In answer, Charlotte pulled a pearl and chain necklace from her pink t-shirt. Emma laughed again and dubbed her, “Zsa Zsa.”
Thankfully Lila came and asked for a volunteer to help prepare the Low Country Boil she was going to serve after the fence was finished. Emma offered, “Zsa Zsa may want to help you.” Confused, Lila asked, “Zsa Zsa?” Charlotte stepped away from her post and said, “That’s me, and I’d love to help you!” Even though she wasn’t much of a cook, she knew the “Barbed Wire Girls” would work more efficiently without her and her residential hammer.
An hour later the food was ready, and the fence was finished. Everyone gathered on the back lawn and Lila’s husband offered grace. Charlotte looked around at the bowed heads of the men and women, skilled and unskilled who had happily and patiently worked side by side on a muggy Georgia Saturday morning pulling a fence, and making memories. Smiling, she quietly hummed Green Acres is the place for me, and thanked God for the experience.