It comes back to me every summer — the joy of porches.
People don’t use their porches much any more — mostly these days they stay inside in the air conditioning, watching television. I had hoped that, with cellphones, maybe people might once more emerge, take delight in sitting outside, greeting their neighbors through the long, leisurely summer evening light. But I haven’t noticed that happening yet. Let me know if it’s going on in your neighborhood.
Because there’s nothing that is more neighborly than porches of people talking with each other or passing strollers. They are little bastions of neutral territory, halfway between the private and the public, with total freedom to go one way or the other. Porches are delightful if there’s nobody within a mile.and just as delightful if your next door neighbor is sitting on his when you come out. (Or comes over and sits with you on yours for a while.) Porches are perfect little holdouts, part private, part public, and the world is poorer for the lack of them.
I have several in my history.
You’ve already heard my memory of my earliest porch, the large one in Wheeling on the parsonage surrounded by bars — you remember? The house was about two blocks away from downtown and I used to sit on the swing and watch the drunks — or potential drunks — go by on their way to the Rock Garden, or Valentino’s. This house had a big tiled porch so we had a good place to romp when a large dog (family tradition says German shepherd) saw me there one day, when I was 3 or 4, and loped up the steps to play. Well, you know me and dogs. I loved him, and after our fun we sat companionably together on the swing until my mother came out and saw us. I always wished I could have told that dog I was sorry she was so inhospitable. On the other hand, it may have helped pave the way for her decision to get me a dog of my own a year or two later.
We had a tiny little back porch on that house at the top of eight or nine steps, and mostly I remember that was where Mother gave lunches to the hoboes that strolled over from the railroad two blocks away. They were always very polite, and appreciative enough, and I never felt any sense of danger from them, as I might these days. That was, you understand, back during the Depression, when, it seems to me, people had more of a sense of personal dignity and responsibility than nowadays. But I might be wrong.
My aunt and uncle, who were our acting grandparents, had a porch with one swing on it and nothing else. It was a brown wicker swing and it hung from the ceiling, and was perfect for stretching out at full length on, and reading as you swung sideways, pushing off on the wall of the house with your feet. Sometimes we forgot to push, and the swing hit the house with a loud thump. Auntie commented loudly about this from inside every time it happened, so I tried not to — honest I did! — but of course, didn’t always succeed. Especially if my book was “Little Women, which I read roughly 112 times in those days.”
When I was 12, we moved out to Woodsdale, a suburb of Wheeling, and that house had the porch of my dreams. It wrapped around half the first floor, and there was enough land between us and our neighbors to make it infinitely more private than the one in town. Instead of a single puny little metal swing, we had a couple soft-cushioned ones, awnings, and lots of comfy porch furniture to make reading nooks and schmooze places. It was surrounded by a low railing that was a couple of feet across and made a great place to sit — leaning up against a cushioned porch pillar — and READ.
And here we arrive at the purest purpose of porches.
A porch’s primary function above all others is as a place to sit through the long languorous summer hours — reading. (Oh, yes, and with a dog in reach, preferably, in those days, a large black cocker spaniel named Jeep.)
In no other way does a summer porch most fully discharge its deepest duty.
Of course, we all know that I speak from the depths of a pre-electronic lifestyle. After television, and what followed, porches became irrelevant. Sadly, nothing has been invented since that can reproduce the old porch sensibility — call me ancient if you wish, but I speak from experience.
Another porch impression impossible to duplicate these days is the ability to cherish nature without having to exert oneself. There was a bird I did not know but often heard — nowadays I think it was a mockingbird. It had a cluttered up song, with no clear calls, like the cardinal or even the robin, although sometimes it sounded like a robin or a cardinal — as I read somewhere later, it was very good “at being everybody.” I loved it. I had no impulse — at that time — to chase it down and identify it.
Nowadays, it seems to be necessary to exercise to enjoy your leisure time. Not when I was a teen-ager! Those quiet, sometimes steamy — no air-conditioning — afternoons on the porch with a book introduced me to the toasty joys of leisurely summers and one’s own sweet time for accomplishing one’s goals — and for growing up, which did not seem so urgent in those days as it is now.
Warm summer porches made for limitless possibilities — all of them — oh well — attainable in the future.
Maude McDaniel is a Cumberland freelance reporter. Her column appears in the Times-News on alternate Sundays.
It comes back to me every summer — the joy of porches.
- Maude McDaniel - Living
- Very first memories of a very long life
July gotcha down? Maybe these will help
•In a hospital's Intensive Care Unit, patients always died in the same bed on Sunday morning, at about 11:00 a.m., regardless of their medical condition. This puzzled the doctors and some even thought it had something to do with the super natural. No one could solve the mystery as to why the deaths occurred around 11 a.m. Sunday, so a worldwide team of experts was assembled to investigate the cause of the incidents. The next Sunday morning, a few minutes before 11 a.m. all of the doctors and nurses nervously waited outside the ward to see for themselves what the terrible phenomenon was all about. Some were holding wooden crosses, prayer books, and other holy objects to ward off the evil spirits. Just when the clock struck 11, Pookie Johnson, the part-time Sunday sweeper, entered the ward and unplugged the life support system so he could use the vacuum cleaner.
Hiccup cure you may find hard to swallow
Let’s give a cheer for one of the things in the human experience that the scientific researchers haven’t fully figured out yet: how to cure hiccups! Somehow it kind of restores your faith in the world, doesn’t it?
But don’t think they haven’t tried.
She learned to laugh with relatives’ help
Sometimes there are people in our lives whom we have never credited with all the influence they had on us when we were growing up.And now it is too late to thank them personally. I am about 50 years past due on this one (or two) but maybe somehow, somewhere they will get a hint of it — and — smile. Fondly, I think..
Signs of aging and what comes with it
It’s been awhile since I last informed you of new signs of old age, and meanwhile none of us have gotten any younger. (I’m working on it, I’m working on it.) I find one of the best things I can do to stay young is to read the obituaries. It reminds you that you are still alive and there are times in one’s life when that can be a serious concern. Of course, the trick is to avoid reading the obituaries for people you know, first checking the pictures for familiar faces. But for the folks you never met, they are remarkably invigorating, especially if they were older than you are. It gives you a goal in life — and we all need goals, right?
Torn between failing in two different fields
Which do I like better, singing or writing?
That's a tough question to answer.
Singing's got it all over writing as far as when I started (at about 5 in the church choir) but writing is certainly a close second. I have somewhere a collection of poems that I wrote from about eight on and I have the feeling that they are lost for a reason! As I remember, they were pretty awful, not at all the kind of effort an aspiring writer would be proud to quote 75 years later!
Bad habits are hard to eliminate — but try
Somebody mentioned smoking on these pages recently, so I thought I'd put in my own two cents on the subject. I started smoking in college, during exam week. The problem was that I was too busy during the rest of the year ever to stop and study for my courses — at least that is what I told myself — because I worked almost every night on the college newspaper. So when exam time kicked in, I threw some all-nighters for study. And the best way to stay awake all night (especially if you don't regularly smoke) is to, well, smoke.
Trivial questions you don’t have to answer
Every so often in this life, my mind, all on its own, generates questions that have no real answers. So I have decided to pass them on to you. I’m tired of them. If you come up with any answers, let me know. Remember when TV jealously guarded the time zone before 9 p.m. for wholesome shows that children could watch. My gosh, how many years ago was that? It seems like another world nowadays, when you can see murders, torture and rape, or those implied, every hour on the hour, somewhere on your public screen. It might be comforting then, to remember that most children nowadays are glued to their little machines with whole different worlds on them, that they can access all day long. Except that in these different worlds they also can view murders, torture and rape on demand.
Rusty writes about the nature of doghood
I am a dog.
Therefore I bark.
I don’t understand why it is so hard for humans to understand this.
I mean, there are certain things that come with the territory, right?
Free-range reminiscing and occasional nostalgia
When I was in grade school, (many more years ago than when either of you were in grade school) my daily winter (fall, spring) routine included walking to school across a railroad track.
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