Our front porch is falling apart. Floor boards are rotten. Railings are either loose or long gone. Paint is peeling.
To even call it a porch might be to unduly dignify the failing structure now only semi-attached to the front of our equally falling down house. It’s a sad architectural decay, a century in the making.
Sometimes my partner Sara and I joke about purposefully keeping the porch in pathetic shape, so when we’re out of the country for months at a time, no one would imagine there’s anything worth stealing on the inside.
Yet theft or no theft, for two centuries, front porches have been an important part of our country’s popular imagination. In fact, front porches are a distinct architectural features of American homes—almost as popular in the US as baseball and apple pie.
Originally important as cool, shaded spaces for families to gather, front porches became common-place by the middle of the 19th-century, peaking in popularity into the earlier 20th. Only after World War II and the movement of American families to the suburbs did back yards replace front porches as a primary outdoor place for children to play and parents to socialize. Slightly more removed from the public eye than the front porch, back yards insulated families from their neighbors, as, in recent years, television and the internet, in moving America almost entirely indoors, have reinvented the notion of neighborhood altogether.
But I didn’t grow up in the suburbs, virtual or otherwise, so during my childhood front porches figured prominently. Where we lived, within the city limits of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, people still gathered on porches. This was especially true for elderly folks who had grown up during the front-porch hay-day of the early 1900s.
It’s no surprise then that my grandmother introduced me to porch occupation. My father’s mother, Kimmy, as we called her, took to the front porch especially on summer evenings, often with a white handkerchief, slathered in Ben-Gay, tied around her head, the menthol meant to treat her almost perpetual headache. It’s virtually impossible for me to remember Kimmy without that white bandana, worn rather than waved, in near surrender to migraine pain—what she referred to as “having [her] head tied up.”
Headache or not, however, since our house was on the flight path of planes approaching the Pittsburgh airport, Kimmy and I spent many evenings on the porch counting jets as they roared by. Oh, what an exciting life we led, that this was considered sport. Seriously, talk about hard up! No wonder Kimmy had a head ache. Bless her heart, not to mention her neck!
My maternal grandmother, who lived in a small town east of Pittsburgh also loved sitting on her front porch on summer evenings. However, Nana didn’t count planes. Her concerns were more down-to-earth. Nana had neighbors to talk to.
While Kimmy sat on the porch passively watching the world fly by, Nana engaged with friends and strangers, alike. Kimmy didn’t use the porch as a place to reach out from, and rather than counting her blessings, as Nana did, Kimmy, not knowing how to be thankful, counted that which was above and beyond her. Gratitude eluded her.
It’s no surprise then that, although I loved Kimmy dearly, Nana, I adored. For Nana the porch was a place of action–for Kimmy, a place she occupied only passively. Though Nana used a walker in later years and couldn’t venture into the street, neighbors came and went from Nana’s porch. It was not a static place. It was a space for love and faith in action.
No one had the time to count anything from Nana’s porch. Rather, Nana’s neighbors counted on her. She cared for them. She prayed with them. When she could barely stand, she still baked pies for them.
So, perhaps, it’s appropriate that the front porch on this house I share with Sara is imperfect. Though we’ve been home from Haiti for more than a year, we too are women of action. We’ve gone out into the world–literally.
Sara, during her twenty years with an international housing NGO, has helped folks build homes of their own. Homes with porches.
Perhaps this blog, as well, is a front porch, of sorts—a place from which virtual neighbors come and go. When we leave comments, we take the time to stay and “set a spell” (as they say here in Kentucky).
Blogs, like porches, transition us from private to public space and back again. They link us to something larger, something outside ourselves, something more meaningful than counting planes, or page hits, for that matter. Blogs are open doors. They create a shared space, become a place where friendships form and lives change. Blogs encourage dialogue, deepen connections, create an experience that is richer than any single post in and of itself.
Blogs are front porches reinvented for a digital age, perhaps—platforms that take the inside out and bring the outside in, corridors of courtesy in a digital and fast-paced world.
Bloggers, such as you and I, are the architects of new neighborhoods, not only in America, but beyond, as well. We offer a wider welcome, with new notions of proximity, new notions of inclucivity and love.
Blog on, my friends, blog on.
What role have porches played in your life? What else do blogs and porches have in common? How has blogging opened you to wider world?
Note: I’m writing a memoir about growing up in an organized crime family. This post is part of my memoir series. To read a draft of chapter one, click here.