The Fun of Whitewashing

One of the more famous scenes in the movie about Tom Sawyer was the whitewashing of a fence. After Tom got into trouble, Aunt Polly punished him by making him whitewash the fence. Tom manipulated other boys into completing the job for him, even paying for the privilege of doing so. By the time the fence was finished, Tom had a fine array of treasures, such as marbles, firecrackers, bits of glass, and other objects. Tom learned that work and play interchanges. Work consists of what has to be done, and play consists of what does not have to be done.

Well, I remember years ago deciding that whitewashing a fence was, indeed, play. Each spring, the beautiful white fence on my grandparent’s farm was in need of a fresh coat of white to accompany the fresh colors of spring. Out came the metal bucket, lime, salt, water, and milk. When the mixture was ready, the big, wide brushes with long handles were brought out, and boy did they look like fun. Soaking the fence with water was an added child’s play. Just the thought of dipping the bristles of the wide paintbrush into the whitewash and smoothly applying it to the fence was a child’s dream come true. And, from the time I can remember, I really wanted to get in on all the fun. But there was just one catch… lime is caustic.

Each spring, I watched the older children put water and whitewash on the fence. I so wanted to join them in their fun. Each spring, I begged to paint… and each spring my pleas fell on deaf ears. Fearing I would splash myself, and others, with the whitewash solution, I was deemed “too young” to play.

Finally, my turn came! I was entrusted with the wonderful task of the spring whitewashing! I could not wait to dip the big, long-handled brush into the water and soak the fence. Oh, what joy would follow, as I brushed the whitewashing solution on each post and rail. My wait was over! I was old enough to participate in the yearly restoration of the fence. I found sloping the water on the fence to be entertaining, as I got as much on me as the fence. After banging myself with the long handled brush a few times, and drenching myself, the fence still needed “a little more water” before the whitewash could be applied. Finally, it was time for the paint! I soon found out that whitewash is a bit thicker than paint and, consequently, the application is not quite as effortless. As a matter of fact, it took two hands to lift the brush, filled with the solution, up and down the posts and back and forth on the rails. My shoulders began to hurt, and my arms ached.

And then it happened… play became work! Alas, I had grown up! Now, it was work. It was grueling. It was much harder than I had ever imagined. And it seemed to never end! I looked at the faces of the older painters and saw a slight smile, as if they knew something I did not know. I heard the pleas of the younger children to paint. And suddenly, I too, figured it out, just like them, and just like Tom Sawyer!

I didn’t have to whitewash many springs, as a sprayer became the tool of choice. Of course, I was too young and not strong enough to use that “fun looking piece of equipment.” Looking back… and knowing what I know now… it was a blessing!

Source: K. P. Guessen