JoAnna Bennett

JoAnna Bennett, O’Brien Communications Group

6 May 2021

This weekend I took on the task of whitewashing the wooden privacy fence in my backyard. When I bought my home, there was a decrepit old shed in the corner of the yard. This past fall, I rented a dumpster. With a little elbow grease and a lot of help, I was able to knock down the shed and remove it from the yard. With the shed gone, there was a perfect amount of space to create a garden. The only downside was the ugly wooden fence behind it. So, I made the choice to brighten up the space by whitewashing it. 


I’m grateful to have a backyard. I’m grateful for the fresh air it provides my children and me. And I’m grateful for the time I spend working outside. Saturday afternoon was the perfect time for the task. It was warm, sunny, and my children were with their father. So, I bought some paint and got to work. And while I was making sure the paint was evenly distributed across the wood, I couldn’t help but think of Mark Twain’s, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

The Fence Scene

There is a scene in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer in which Tom is whitewashing his aunt’s fence as a punishment. At the end of the scene, Tom winds up cunningly convincing some neighborhood boys to paint the fence and even pay him for the honor. As Mark Twain puts it, “He had discovered a great law of human action, without knowing it — namely, that in order to make a man or a boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to attain.“

When I read this story as an adolescent, I must admit to thinking Tom was a genius. He learned how to get out of his punishment and profit from his friends’ gullibility. But as an adult, I see this story as a boy learning how to manipulate others. While this might have been a harmless manipulation, I wonder what an adult Tom might have gotten away with. Manipulation is a slippery slope. Like most toxic human habits, once the brain gets a taste of that sweet serotonin release, it doesn’t want to stop. Manipulating others might progress. It might occur more often and increasingly harsh.

Paint the Fence, Empty the Mind

I’m glad I painted my fence this weekend. I may have fantasized about Tom Sawyer while doing it. I may have wondered if I could convince someone to come do it for me. But I didn’t. I took the time and completed the job myself. I listened to some good music. I felt the burn in my muscles. And I even got a decent tan in the process. While painting that fence, I wasn’t worrying about much of anything. I was simply beautifying the backyard I’m grateful for having.

And while making a person want something by making it difficult to attain does work, taking time and putting forth effort to attain it yourself is more peaceful.

I prefer the peace.