Dreams of a White Picket Fence

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by Helen Baldwin |

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white picket fence

When I began daydreaming about the kind of house my husband, Randy, and I would someday own, my vision included a big covered porch with a swing, a roomy yard with lots of trees, and a white picket fence.

Gloria, our realtor in Fort Worth, Texas, had shown us numerous houses when she took us to the house her parents owned. It was a small ranch (“ranchette”) with a tiny covered porch located on a relatively large lot. The neatly manicured neighborhood was perfect for first-time or retired homeowners. While the house itself didn’t initially woo me over, that all changed when Gloria opened the drapes. The backyard was a wooded park! All but a tiny patch of yard sloped down, but that didn’t matter to us, and our two dogs delighted in romping around.

We left a few years later with fond memories of our first house, but ready for our new adventure in Columbia, South Carolina.


I hadn’t given up on the white picket fence or big covered porch with a swing, but I’d have to wait. I was crazy about the house we settled on in Columbia, though — a cozy bungalow on an ample lot dotted with towering pines, a majestic magnolia, and stunning azaleas. We were again blessed with a quiet, older neighborhood. My folks followed us from Fort Worth to a house just around the corner, and our children, Matthew and Katie, were born during our six-year stint in Columbia. My school, Brockman, was in the neighborhood as well. Despite the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Hugo, it was a good chapter.

Our next destination was Lenoir, North Carolina. Our new house was an insanely long ranch-style with a yard that kept Randy mowing and kids and dogs running for hours. It was the neighborhood’s fixer-upper. There was no covered porch, and while we installed the endless fence picket by picket, it wasn’t white. We weren’t about to paint it, either.


After a few years in Lenoir, life took another unexpected twist when my family purchased a lodge and cabins on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Ashe County, North Carolina. My parents moved into the lodge and assumed the mind-boggling innkeeper duties. I drove the hour from Lenoir almost daily to help transform the beast into a beauty.

When the leaves started strutting their fall magic, I knew Randy and I had to move. It was a no-brainer for health reasons. Matthew and Katie had developed asthma from the multiple furniture factories surrounding their elementary school. Living close to my folks and the lodge would simplify just about everything, other than Randy’s job as a high school football coach an hour away.

So once again, we were on a house-hunting mission. We promptly let our very patient realtor know what we “had to have” in the way of space. She had exhausted everything on her list that even remotely fit when she mentioned a house that had been listed so recently, it wasn’t in the computer yet. She said it didn’t fit what we wanted. We agreed to take a look.

We drove up to an old farmhouse with a big covered porch and a porch swing. The yard took up more space than we could see, and that didn’t include over 10 more acres up the little mountain on the property. Trees were everywhere.

Looking out the windows in the kitchen, which had been “improved” to the point of cinder blocks, sheetrock, and plastic partially covering the walls, I saw the pond, and that was that. I conveniently overlooked the fact that there was only one bathroom (but it was inside!), and that the house wasn’t very big.

Even without a white picket fence, it was The One.


Just as we were settling into our new rural mountain routine, we welcomed a big surprise: baby Jeffrey! Two months later, his spinal muscular atrophy diagnosis packed the biggest punch imaginable.

We strolled with Jeffrey to the state park down the road as often as possible, thankful for the opportunity to do something that cleared our heads without much effort.

I was thankful, too, for the big covered porch and the swing, as Jeffrey eventually wanted to venture no farther than the swing until even that was too much. The trees’ color spectacle that fall didn’t disappoint. Other than our fateful trip to Asheville in early October, when the leaves were at their peak, “fall” was whatever I could see from our windows. It was a beautiful blur.

That white picket fence? After Jeffrey donned his wings and settled in his special spot on the mountaintop, we eventually got one.

Just not what I’d had in mind.

Jeffrey’s spot, complete with a white picket fence. (Photo by Helen Baldwin)


Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today, or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.


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