Porches are fairly common parts of any house. You can find them on houses across the USA. But here in the south, a porch is seen as a further extension of the family room. Indeed, it even surpasses the family room as the gathering place on warm nights. In the past, families would gather on their porches after dinner to rest, to talk, to watch the world go by. Couples "courted" on porches. Women shelled beans, men whittled, children played on the steps. In traditional southern families, the porch is a gathering place, a resting place.
My maternal grandmother (MawMaw) had a screen porch that spanned the entire length of her house. Lined with a variety of rockers and straight-back chairs, it was a gathering place for family members young and old. The front yard was shaded by huge old oak trees (and a hickory nut tree). The men smoked and told hunting stories. The women gossiped and traded recipes. The teenagers giggled and shared secrets (and pierced each other's ears with a potato- eww!). We kids played (even roller-skated) on this porch. It was a huge part of family life. Living here on the mountain, there was little traffic to watch (a car during the day was big news). Still we gathered here on Sunday afternoons, on warm summer nights. I remember sleeping out there on a featherbed with my cousins telling ghost stories. Whenever I hear cicadas and tree frogs, to this very day, I think of my MawMaw.
My father's parents lived on the Lyerly Highway (GA 114). Their porch faced the highway. Here, the family gathered always. The only time I can remember the family gathering in the living room was on Christmas or Thanksgiving. Otherwise, you were either in the kitchen or on the porch. A requirement for this porch was a glass of iced tea that my Granny made daily and kept in the refrigerator (which she called the Frigidaire).
On one end of Granny's porch was my favorite thing- the porch swing. My cousin Terri and I would sit for hours on that swing playing a game called "It's Mine". It went like this: the first car to come down the highway was hers, the next was mine. If it was nice- a sports car, etc., you were a winner of sorts. Mine was usually a clunker...
My Grandaddy would listen to us sing there on the porch at night. He would say. "Sing for Grandaddy" and we'd sing old gospel songs with all our heart. One of my last memories of him was there on the porch. He asked me to get him a glass of iced tea. When I banged back out the screen door and handed him a Tupperware glass he held my arm and said. "Thank you, Sugar. Your Grandaddy loves you." I was 14 that summer. He died that July 3rd. I can not look at that porch without thinking of him. Terri lives there now. The porch swing remains (moved to the other side). If that house ever passes from the family I do believe a part of my very soul will be lost. I pray that never happens.
My house today has a porch and a deck. The deck gets the morning sun, the porch gets the evening sun. There is an outdoor respite for every time of day. And, of course, on the porch, is my swing. Here is a place I can go on lazy afternoons to read, to think. My husband and I sit here to talk. My daughter and I gather here to paint. Even the dogs love to lie here and while away the hours. I sit here on sleepless nights and listen to the cicadas and tree frogs, and of course I remember. I sit on the deck steps and listen to the wind blowing up Devil's Holler. It is humbling. It is peaceful. It is a reminder that these trees, this holler, this land were here long before me. They will be here long after. My troubles are only temporary. This, too, shall pass.
How different would the world be if we all took time to sit on our porch swing at the end of a long day? What stories would our children tell us that we never have time to hear? What memories would we build for them? What stories would we tell?
Everyone can use a little porch swing therapy. Try it some time....