Thursday, October 6, 2011
Front porches on houses are like eyes on faces: they preview what’s inside. Porches also define family living styles. This was brought home to me again last Sunday during the Scrumptious Kitchen Tour benefiting Children in Crisis, the Dorchester Children’s Center for abused and neglected children. This annual – and again successful – tour was held this year in a neighborhood of front porches – Shepard Place.
The weather was heaven sent, the crowds overflowing with anticipation and the porches decked out as gathering places for the visitors. Porch décor was often accented with colorful cushions and furniture styles included wrought iron, wicker, wood slatted rockers and best of all, old fashion porch swings. From previous visits I knew the residents here have regular Friday Porch Parties. All the homes have porches; some have one on each floor. Because houses are close, it’s easy to sit outside and visit with your near neighbors.
All this reminded me of my paternal grandparents, Nellie and Harry. These Lynches lived in a similar neighborhood in the tiny steel town of Vandergrift, Pennsylvania, more than a century ago. Houses were close together and they all had front porches. After a day’s work if weather permitted, people sat outside and took their ease after a long shift at the mill. They talked to neighbors on each side as well as across the street and shared stories and experiences.
By the time I knew these grandparents we all lived in Ohio and I always loved listening to tales about my dad’s hometown and how the eight Lynch kids grew up on front porches all along their street. These stories were usually related by his sister, my Aunt Helen, who was full of funny yarns – many of which we suspected contained more than a bit of blarney. She used to make us laugh by telling us they were cliff dwellers as the homes were built like birdhouses on steep rocky hills and were so close together that a child had to sidle sideways to pass between. In fact, Aunt Helen used say that those houses were so close that a person could be enthroned on the commode, hear the next door neighbor’s plea for more bathroom tissue, open the window and hand a roll over to said person who was just an arms length away. I used to think this was just another “Helenism.” Then my dad took me to visit Vandergrift and I saw for myself how (very nearly) true this was. But the porches were still there and my aunts, uncles and cousins were still sitting around in the evening gabbing with their neighbors.
Jim and I are porch people too. We have an open front porch and a screened enclosure in the back. Most every evening we sit out on one of them, relax, replay the day’s activities and enjoy what my dad used to call a “little libation.” We’re in the center of a cul-de-sac and our near neighbors don’t have adjacent porches but we see them coming and going, call out greetings and manage to exchange a bit of news. Sometimes even in retirement lives are so full and fast paced we get isolated from the people living closest. Porches often cure that.
Long may they reign!