Lowell and Liva Weland, our neighbors across the alley, built a split level house sometime in the early ‘70s. It was a nice house and notable because it was one of a handful of new homes built in Elmo during the eighteen years I lived there. It had a huge front yard where the neighborhood boys and I used to play football. Out the back door, running the entire length of the house, was a cement pad that served as their patio. On the patio was a barbecue grill, some redwood-stained patio furniture with a floral patterned vinyl umbrella, and a picnic table. The Welands used the patio frequently, particularly in the summer. We’d see them as we came and went from our house and we’d wave and typically holler some brief and purely rhetorical question across the alleyway, the kind that only required a one or two word answer in return: “Hot enough for ya?” or “Grilling some burgers, huh?” or, “Enough for us?” The ususal.
Then one day at the beginning of the second season of the patio, a crew arrived and started erecting a tall wooden fence around it. This new fence shouldn't have been a big deal to anybody. It was perfectly reasonable to think someone might want some privacy on their patio. For some reason, though, my parents and some other neighbors - even some townspeople who didn’t live nearby - took umbrage. Maybe if it had gone up when the patio was first poured, its impact wouldn’t have been so directly felt. It would have seemed like part of overall plan for the new house; an obvious thing to do. You build a patio, and then you build a privacy fence around it. Putting it up after a full season of fully exposed patio usage, however, made it seem not so much like something the Welands wanted, but rather, a response to something we’d done. It wasn't, after all, a delay due to finances; Lowell was the president of the bank. He had the money. What was it then? Had our inane questions bugged Lowell while he was grilling burgers? Did the Weland girls (almost teenagers, after all) request it so they could sunbathe without worrying that I or the other neighborhood boys who dropped by periodically, would drop by periodically? Had they seen me peeking out between the curtains of my bedroom when they were all eating on the patio (or, maybe, sun bathing)?
My parents’ friend, Doyle, spoke for us all when he saw the fence and remarked, “We don’t do anything on our patio we’re so ashamed of that we'd have to put a fence around it.”