I’m a week late, but here is my contribution to the prompt from the Weekly Prompt challenge about walls. Check more at https://weeklyprompts.com/2022/01/22/weekly-prompts-weekend-challenge-walls/
I’ve been thinking about walls, fences, enclosures, anything that keeps us separated and often isolated.
And I wonder if we feel the need for protection or privacy?
As a child I remember fences were rare unless someone was attempting to keep chickens in the backyard. Those fences were ‘chicken wire’ see-through barriers conducive to neighbors sharing stories without six-foot obstacles minimizing or even eliminating communication.
My grandparents would sit on their front porches relaxing in the creaky swings and learn about the latest happenings in the neighborhood from people strolling by on their way to the grocery store or the bank or the post office. Who was sick, who was out of town, prices on watermelons, national news and always the weather would be shared.
There was a slowness to life in the small Oklahoma town where we grew up. we ran from backyard to backyard in open expanses unhindered by gates. We played ball in the vacant lots next to our house or in the streets, and we could wander in and out of our friends’ homes to get Koolaid or peanut butter sandwiches.
So, when or why did the need to hunker down in the privacy of our back yards become our preference over the openness of front yards? When did we surround our back properties with boards blocking views and entrances? And instead of having street parties we began entertaining behind those walls. We cut ourselves off from our neighbors, limiting our exposure. I wonder if fear was the motiving factor or perhaps it was too much contact.
Did our work, an increase in unacknowledged stress, or fear of our society lead us to steal into our garages, locking ourselves away for a taste of solitude and safeness?
After a bit of research, I learned front porches lost favor in the post-World War II 1950s and 60s when Americans began moving from cities to suburbia, and builders eliminated porches to minimize costs for affordable houses. Before that time, backyards were used for gardens and chicken coups when folks were into growing their own food.
Following the war, food production increased and self-sustaining backyard gardens decreased, making the backyards available for family and social gatherings. Now instead of front porches we have back yard patios and decks.
I’m not saying I think backyard privacy is a bad thing. I do miss the flow of neighbors strolling on the sidewalk just feet away from you and catching up on their lives in even brief conversations.
I didn’t realize what walls do until coming to Mexico where walls are everywhere. You never know what is behind a stone wall. There may be a hovel tucked away out of sight unseen by anyone but the chosen few who are allowed in. Or, there may be a hacienda overseeing lush gardens and fountains, flowers blooming, paved walkways, and a feeling of peace and rightness.
But outside these walls are cobbled streets and worn sidewalks. People walking to buy groceries, stopping and greeting neighbors, waving, and interacting. They are not isolated, but find pleasure in being outside connecting and sharing.
Walking is a lifestyle, not a competition in San Miguel de Allende. It is a way to bond and unite with others rather than a way to stay healthy. Mexicans may not think about living behind walls, but their insistence on staying linked to their community through everyday journeys to and from on foot renews their ties. Those outings allow them to look in the eyes of their acquaintances and see their joy, their pain, hear their news, offer words of encouragement or just acknowledge their existence with other humans.
Walls raise questions about one’s need for them, or their purpose, and if they are used for comfort or solitude, privacy or protection. Are fences necessary and restrictive, or do they offer solace? Perhaps we build them for all those reasons, internally and in our physical surroundings.
I continue to wonder what walls are necessary in my life.