A porch serves as a natural barrier to the winds, the snows and the rains that batter a house, but in the old days, it also served as a central meeting place for a community to share intimacies and tricks of the trade for survival. There is something to be said for a place that includes the traffic of beings and nature in a conversation; a protected part of a home exposed and open to worldly possibilities.
My mother spent many a sleepless night worrying about the front porch taking down the front of our house. A main column was right on the edge and bordered on collapse and another inched closer in a game of chicken. One heavy snow on the slanted roof, and she thought we were doomed, but, thankfully, both held for the time that we lived there. No one else was worried about it collapsing.
My parents didn’t have the cash on hand to fix it, as there were eight of us to contend with in those days, so my parents spent their hard-earned money on necessities like braces and glasses for their kids, food and any inclination that aids in the process of survival. The new owners reinforced the columns. As far as I could see there aren’t any ropes or wires holding it together to this day.
I remember many a night on that stoop on my old street. The enigmatic sleep of quiet delivered by the stars and dark of night protected secrets and hearts opened up to discern events of the day. The sway of a swinging chair, the gentle rock of an old creaky straight back, or just a rickety aluminum lawn chair lent themselves to cradling its occupant in a way that soothed the strains any emotion offered. Sometimes a simple sit on the steps was sufficient. The smell of citronella moistened the air, fending off mosquitos, and a cool iced tea or Pepsi capped off hot nights.
The porch held a space for many a visitor seeking refuge from the ravages and uncertainties of life. Little personal histories were made, understood and pondered there. Many a budding philosopher made his or her points there and worked out what he/she believed and could sell. Many a problem was posed and solved there and it became a sort of sanctuary from the winds that battered and beat against many a weathered soul during the day.
Laughter, tears, and torment were shed on that precipice. Joy, relief and lament were shed there, too. Like a game, it was “home free.” One step on the steps and you were safe. There was a large tree on the tree lawn just steps from the stoop that held a great deal of importance, too. That tree held the overflow and moved kids to the important task of establishing a home base for games.
As a kid I remembered the porch as a sort of stage for making plays and devising games and plans to do something. We had fudge eating contests, the adults planned the block party, or had spur of the moment liquor, ice cream or popsicle meet and greets — the simple act of being present to friends who would wander by for a laugh. The grainy photos we took on the steps were perfect for documenting a time. That porch may have been the most important meeting place in the house.
During this time of being closed off to others I recall a time where neighbors were family.
We’re all looking for a place to go; a place to call home where we can meet with someone close. These days of being shut in has me pondering those days of community. Where people came and went, but you knew there was always someone to talk to. We’re looking for a place to commune, a place to rest our heads on the proverbial shoulder and be told “It’s going to be all right. There’s another day and it awaits our wonder with joy.”
If you were lucky, you had some characters on the street that pointed to that joy in a unique way. Bored on my porch, I would walk next door and delight sitting with my neighbors who were enamored by the shock of veined light and crystal (cobalt) streaks from a lightning storm and the base drum boom of thunder.
The development of self takes root in the home. The Internet is the new front porch. We live vicariously through others. We witness what others do to have fun. We isolate from the experience of others in person and wonder why we’re going crazy at home during a pandemic.
The new natural barrier is a security wall. This wall keeps out intrusive solicitors, and we can block our “friends” from experiencing what we have to offer if we don’t like their politics. We wall ourselves off from natural experiences and are in the throes of an artificial experience. Technology has invented hologram games for us to face off with cartoon characters or actors playing a part. Think about that. Our new front porch stoop is a piece of technology. Our friends imagined by someone else.
The difference between technology meetings and personal meetings is decency. You can’t see an immediate response and respond to the nuances of humanity in the moment online. It’s easy to bully someone from a distance, but hard to state an offense face to face. On the porch we learned to be crafty with our intent to make a point.
The place where I live has a porch. We use it, but our street is quiet. A few neighbors stop by but, for the most part, people keep to themselves these days. We don’t have the same foot traffic we once had, nor do we have the intimate relationships where we just moseyed over for a drink.
Yeah, we’re all looking for a place to go. Looking for a place of understanding. Looking for a place to sit our weary bones for a time and seek peace and know sympathetic ears are listening. Maybe it’s just a place to relish the act of making time stand still. But those little plots of land were and still are quiet sanctuaries.