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  • Robert Bruce Adams

White Picket Fences

I AM SMILING BECAUSE I HAVE OFTEN USED the expression, “White Picket Fences,” when describing the vision that represented my own wishes for my life. This twentieth century saying suggests the appearance of a family living a most orderly life in a lovely neighborhood setting. It was a symbol of what I wanted my life to be. This image assumed both happiness and contentment would follow.

Yes, a nearly perfect family consisting of two opposite sex parents (husband and wife), playful children (no autism and ADHD allowed), and bouncing pets. Planted around the house were shrubs and flowers resplendent in a rainbow of colors. A clapboard-style house was the centerpiece and it was framed by a freshly painted white picket fence. Not only can I see it, I can smell the oil from the paint. No water-based paints for this pictured image. I’m thinking a couple large shade trees, fully leafed-out elms would complete the near perfect scene.

Such an untroubled view of a once sought after mostly American dream.

Images of this world were often subjects of paintings by Norman Rockwell. My exposure to him was first as the cover artist for Boys Life, and then the Saturday Evening Post. He deftly portrayed the white picket fence image and would certainly understand the olfactory sensation given by the fragrances in the oils. My dad bought copies of Rockwell’s art; later it also included Dick Sargent, his understudy. Both artists’ creations decorated the walls of Dad’s old-fashioned doctor’s office as well as our home. These men were clearly favorites of my parents – the paintings reflecting their storybook life.

Rockwell certainly had critics that mocked his portrayal of small town America. He rejected these rumblings, simply admitting that he may have unconsciously looked at the “ideal” to buffer against, “reality.” Perhaps Rockwell was a bit, Pollyannish - a term used to depict a fictional heroine who saw optimism in all of life’s occasions. But again, what is wrong with that? I like it, and support the message.

OK, I accept that all this was a bit of a fantasy, but my parents had a remarkable and happy life except for one reality, that of dealing for decades with my sister Sally, her circumstance caused by her mental illness. Sally caused heartaches of some consequence. My parents often enabled her out of their love, trying to buffer the extreme mood swings of her bi-polar disorder. My father was woven into her web far more than my mother. It was an endless cycle of repetitive and destructive behaviors. My siblings all had different takes on dealing with Sally. There never was an easy answer; it was and is the nature of the beast. Grin and bear it was the best we could do; that, and a lot of prescription drugs for her, joining her own cache of “uppers.” Alcohol was the sedative for the rest of us. Making the best of a bad situation was the operative slogan we worked under. Death did bring relief. She is now in God’s hands. Good luck to both of you.

How would Rockwell have portrayed this? He simply would not have even tried.

I choose not to be cynical, or let negativity and sadness rule the day. It has been one of the lessons I have learned in my life.

I find myself smiling today. Happiness is indeed an energized frame of mind and my parents and Norman Rockwell knew it so well. Here’s to white picket fences - even if I have found contentment without them. The image of them still makes me smile

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