The “Fencident”

If you take a left out of my parents’ driveway you come to an intersection. Look across the intersection and you’ll see a house with a chain link fence along its driveway. Look again and you’ll notice that the end fence post is slightly askew and the chain link is buckled. It’s been that way for thirty-five years.

And I know, because I did it.

There is rarely a time when I leave my parents’ house that I don’t glance at the bent fence and think back to my first year of driving. I’d never told anyone about the fence until recently when my teenage kids were with me as we stopped at the intersection. Somehow, the off-kilter fence post caught my son’s eye.

“What happened to the fence?” he asked, unaware that was a question I feared for a very long time after I caused the damage.

Unfortunately, there have been many times in life when I haven’t been as honest or as forthcoming as I should have been. In the case of the bent fence, however, I’d had an occasion of truthful glory. Remembering what I’d read about “teachable moments” I decided to confess the story to my kids, hoping to teach them something about the value of honesty.

“What happened to the fence?” my son repeated.

“I did it.” I said.

Both kids gave me their full attention as I crossed the intersection and passed the scene of the long ago incident. Almost in slow motion, they looked from the fence then back to me as I began to explain.

I was sixteen at the time and hadn’t been driving long. A friend was visiting and I decided to drive us down to the service station for a Slim Jim and a Yoohoo, I guess because they’re such a delicious combination. The car my sisters and I shared at the time was a 1963 Mercury Comet, affectionately known around home as “The Vomit”. It was an ugly beast with tail fins akin to those of the Batmobile.

As I stopped at the intersection with my friend I realized I’d forgotten my money. I crossed the intersection to turn around at the house with the the chain link fence and return home for cash. Eager to show off my driving skills, I backed into the driveway. It went well until one of the jutting tail fins snagged the chain link. I heard a slight screeching sound as the fence bent and the post shifted. I began to sweat.

“Go! Just go!” my friend insisted as he looked around for anyone who might have seen us.

I considered just going, but couldn’t.

My hands shook as I put the car in park and told my friend I’d be right back. My nervous knees nearly buckled as I walked from the car up the sidewalk and to the front door of the house. It took several tries to convince my finger to push the doorbell. I pushed it and waited for the worst. I felt my lips quiver and assumed I wouldn’t be able to speak when the man opened the door. Surely I’d have to start over several times before being able to tell him what I had done. “What happened to the fence?” he’d ask, unable to understand the stuttering I was sure to do.

As I waited for an eternity for the door to open, I also imagined how it would be when I had to tell my parents. “What happened to the fence?” they would ask, forcing me to repeat to them the awful incident. Luckily, when I imagined telling them, I hadn’t yet had my Slurpee so the urge to wet my pants went unfulfilled.

I heard the front door being unlocked and the doorknob turning. An old man stared at me through the storm door as he then unlocked that too, and opened it partially. He stared at me.

“I messed up your fence, sir.” I croaked to him. I waited for him to curse, demand to talk to my father, or tell me to wait while he called the police. He just stared at me.

“I backed in and accidentally hit the end of it.” I said, turning to point to the fence with my shaking hand.

His expression never changed as he said very calmly, “I know. I saw you do it.”

He went on to say he was watching television in his den when he saw me back in and hit his fence. I hadn’t realized that living so close to my parents he’d seen that unmistakable car a thousand times, he’d known my father and extended family for years, and he’d seen me driving the car a few times before.

“I saw you do it but you came and told me.” he continued. “If you’d driven off I would have known who to call, but you came and told me you did it. So don’t worry about it.”

“What?” I asked, not understanding. He never raised his voice, no cursing, no calling the police, and no calling my father.

“Don’t worry about it. It’s between me and you.” he said as he shut the door. I heard the lock turn and his footsteps fade away as I stood there with sweat on my upper lip. I told the truth and the old man had respected that.

My kids listened as I wrapped up my teachable moment. I told them that although I had been scared to death of whatever punishment might come my way, I had done the right thing by being honest with the old man. In return for my honesty, he forgave the whole thing. Had I not been honest, things would have turned out very differently for me.

“So you never told Mamaw and Big Daddy?” the kids asked.

Many times I thought about telling my parents. I always wondered if the old man would eventually tell them. For a while I was certain one of my parents would approach me, having learned what I’d done and ask, “What happened to the fence?” I’d started many times to tell them but each time I could only get a few words out before I began to sweat. “Nevermind.” I’d say. “I’ll tell you later.” The old man passed away long ago and two families have lived there since. The chain link fence, rusty now, still remains.

Feeling empowered by the teachable moment, I told the kids that as soon as we got back to my parents I would tell them all about the little accident that happened over thirty years ago now. Being ancient history at this point it would make a funny story. What could be the big deal?

Hours later as we sat around my parents’ living room the kids looked at me and grinned. “Hey, don’t you have something to tell about a fence?” they asked, very loudly.

I took a deep breath and asked my mother if she remembered way back when an old man lived in the house across the intersection, the one with the chain link fence. She nodded yes. I tried to keep talking but I got tongue-tied and suddenly felt a little warm. I stopped talking.

“Well, what happened to the fence?” she asked.

I felt even warmer.

Daddy entered the room and caught part of the conversation. “What happened to what fence?” he asked.

I broke a sweat.

“Nevermind.” I said. “I’ll tell you later.”

After all, the old man did say to forget about it. It was between me and him – and now my kids, for the sake of a teachable moment.

I did finally tell my parents about the “fencident”, the code word my friend and I used for that day now thirty-five years ago. They grinned as I told them, they had never learned of it from the old man, and the passage of so much time made the whole event seem pretty irrelevant to them. To me though, it has remained relevant. Being human, I’ve sometimes failed to apply what I learned. Then again, there have been many times when that lesson has served me well.

Stuart M. Perkins

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47 Comments

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47 responses to “The “Fencident”

  1. I loved reading ” The Fencident ” story. It made me think of a few small incidents that my parents never found out about around 25 to 30 years ago, or so. It makes me wonder if I should confess any of those incidents to my elderly parents, but I’m fairly sure I’d have the same result as You did. I highly doubt that I’d be able to come out with the real truth of any of the incidents. My Dad even though elderly now, is still a formidable presence. I’m 45 now, and He still has a talent for making me feel like I’m about 17 years old ! Besides that, with my Mom having Parkinson’s disease now, my story would only serve to completely confuse her. So some things are better left in the past.

  2. What a lesson to share with the kids!!! Love it!

  3. Oh but I had many a “fincident” as I was learning to drive!

  4. Outstanding. Now go get yourself a yoohoo and a slim Jim.

  5. We all have a story like this one but often with less learned, thanks for sharing yours.

  6. Reblogged this on The Best Possible World and commented:
    Nice lesson in the kind of story many of us have.

  7. This one is now my favorite post of yours. You keep outdoing yourself.

  8. pi314chron

    Classic and Vintage “Stu!”

  9. good for you. wish I were as humble. And good for the old man neighbor, too. He kept his word.

  10. Oh this is such a lovely story. The old man. The kids. The parents. And of course the narrator who did the right thing.
    Cheers to the fence, which holds so many memories.

  11. What a great story and so poigniant and reminded me of something I did as a mature adult some 15yrs ago.
    I very easily managed to reversed my car down a concealed overgrown ditch on the tidal edge, this ditch approx 6′ deep (maybe it would have been called some kind of sand barr) was heavily concealed and fast filling with tidal water of which I am unaware of until I’m hanging by a thread to a tree root and can hear he water behind me.The immense panic of what I’d dome was awful and to be truthful for about 5 seconds I did’nt know what was happening, my car was lodged on a huge tree stump that that must have been washed in by the tide probably some years previously. OMG I was so afraid to move but I did get out of the car so precariously thinking it was going to go tumbling backwards with me in it or hanging on. I managed to get out hysterically, got up the bank covered in reeds and sea weeds and spent the next 20 mins or so looking for help. The whole time thinking my husband is going to go beserk over my stupidity. Would be very relieved I was safe but would want to know why I was over the other side of the county on a Friday morning. The reason being I was house hunting. To clarify we had not long moved in to a house that I never felt comfortable in, in actual fact I disliked it intensly but could’nt say because we’de only moved in about 1year before.So house hunting was not on the list of his priorities as you can imagine.
    As he worked away from home for a lot of the week I really did not want him leaving home and worrying about “what else could I do that was …..!!”
    Well I manged to get help my car was very slowly pulled off this tree stump checked over and there was no damage.Which I was shocked about but so relieved.
    I drove home literally shaking all over and felt I really should tell him but I did’nt want to worry him and I thought the wrath of doing something so stupid for a situation that was not viable at that time.. So for many years about 13 yrs I think I did’nt tell him and eventually I did spill the beans and by now there’s a lot of humour and levity attached to the anecdote, and with what he probably thought was a lot of artistic licence We had a hell of a laugh about it but he was more shocked to think I had managed to keep my mouth shut for so long. Yes that was incredible really ha-ha
    To be able to eventually share that story was good and funny…if only I’d shared it way back would have been better as my husband passed away a year later, but I’m glad we laughed about it a lot and I need’nt have worried about the wrath really.

    • I understand! Even though it was over thirty years later that I told my parents about the fence, I still felt nervous! Once I’d told them and saw their (almost less than zero) reaction, I laughed at myself for worrying about it so long. If I’d been as honest with them immediately as I was with the old man, I could have avoided a lot of worry!

  12. Keep writing. It gives hope and pleasure to others. To others like me.

  13. Mmm. I have many such stories but my children are a lot less trouble than I was and they now read my blog so maybe I will have secrets forever. My teachable moments are things they are better off not learning I think. Great story post as always.

  14. What a great story. I so enjoy your essays. Thank you!

  15. A well told tale and a great read. Thank you!

  16. Wonderful story! I second above, keep writing! Will reblog

  17. Reblogged this on Writing Out Loud and commented:
    I thought this a great story, well written and with meaning. How many of us would be so honest and find the receiver of our honesty to gracious. Two heroes.

  18. merrysusanna

    I really enjoyed this. Well done. Love the old man. So many times we worry about the consequences of our actions only to be blessed with an opportunity to grow.

  19. As a follow up to it all, I would love to report that the old man and I became good friends and would wave to each other each time I passed his house. The reality was, to cross that intersection again only made me nervous. I chose the long route to get my Slim Jims and Yoohoos from then on. I also practiced backing the car into place in the church parking lot. On Saturdays.

  20. Great story, but it left me wondering about the tail fin. My father would have noticed even the teeniest scratch and badgered me until I came clean. His cars were his pride and joy.
    I can’t tell you now many early driving incidents I had. Countless, creating lots of trouble for me.
    I also connected with the anxiety of telling the truth-even years later, as just about any interaction with my parents involves the personal fight against reverting back to young Dennie. In so many ways, I’ve come so far, but in others…not so much.
    Thanks.

    • Oh there scratches, but the old car was pre-scratched when Daddy bought it for us to use. Three teenagers sharing the same car soon add more and the scratches I earned from the chain link fence simply blended it.

  21. Another lovely story. Thank you!

  22. Assume that there’s always Someone watching

  23. Teachable moments have a little something for everyone, yes? Lovely story.

  24. I absolutley refuse to miss reading anything you write. Thanks for the story.

  25. rubble2bubble

    …loved this.

  26. Well told; and well done! We all have those moments. Is it what makes us human?

  27. I so enjoyed the lesson and the humor in this story….it was a great teachable moment, especially because you did the right thing!

  28. LOL! First, slim jims and yoohoos. Yum!! Second, I backed into somebody’s car a couple of months ago and dented their door pretty badly. The owner wasn’t around and I left a note with all my info under a wiper blade, left, and then went back because I wanted to change the info to just my phone number. When I got there the young owner was standing there. I was terrified. He didn’t get angry, just expressed eternal gratitude for my honesty. I guess it always is the best policy.

  29. Thanks for the entertaining reminder about the power of doing good!

  30. Thank you for liking my recent post.. You write well I enjoyed reading this..

  31. Ceirion Gilbert

    Lovely, well-written story, as always. But with a lesson too, this one. Thank you πŸ™‚

  32. Loved it from beginning to end. When you described walking to the old man’s door my palms were almost sweating! Love your gift.

  33. Your “victim” was a man of character, and he saw the same in you. I found myself in a similar predicament at the same age and reacted quite differently. So much for character. Good story well told!

  34. Sig

    Deeds once done can’t be undone. The dent in the fence was an accident. Driving away, though, would have been deliberate. The old man saw a decent, honest kid, And you learned at 16 how kind and decent most folks are when, given the chance.

  35. The “Fencident” was definitely a teachable moment.

  36. That neighbor went to his grave never whispering a word! I admire both of you. I’ll cherish the lesson.
    Cheers, my friend.

  37. Evan M Perkins

    Hello Daddy!!! I would love to complement you on your stories!! You once told me to read one of your stories, while we sat on my grandmothers couch. I thought to myself “Now why would I read one of these stories? I don’t like to read!” But a few months later I sat in a chair in my room. I was terribly bored, and I got to thinking about my family, how it was my grandmother’s birthday and I couldn’t tell her happy birthday because we live in different states. But anyway, I thought about YOU and how you told me to read one of your stories. So I did! … I found out something about myself today, and it turns out I love to read!

  38. Nice . . . these days, the old man would have been sued for the damage the fence might have done to the car.

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