“No front porches. My uncle says there used to be front porches. And people sat there sometimes at night, talking when they wanted to talk, rocking, and not talking when they didn’t want to talk. Sometimes they just sat there and thought about things, turned things over. My uncle says the architects got rid of the front porches because they didn’t look well. But my uncle says that was merely rationalizing it; the real reason, hidden underneath, might be they didn’t want people sitting like that, doing nothing, rocking, talking; that was the wrong kind of social life. People talked too much. And they had time to think. So they ran off with the porches.” ~ Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451
Yes, I know. I’m on this front porch kick. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that I just recently wrote a post lamenting how folks don’t seem to be outside their homes enjoying a nice Sunday afternoon and I don’t see people sitting on their front porches any more.
Maybe I am an old-fashioned person, but I truly miss those days of folks sitting on the front porch, waving at passersby, chatting with the neighbor, or simply watching the cars go by while enjoying a moment or two of quiet solitude.
I do sit on my front porch pretty often. One of the regrets I have is that when we built our home, we didn’t make the front porch bigger. But it serves its purpose which is to house my favorite piece of outdoor furniture – our porch swing.
I grew up in a house with a large covered front porch. And on that porch were several chairs and my favorite spot – the porch swing.
Memories wash over me when I remember that old porch swing. I remember summer nights, swaying back and forth talking things over with my mother. Often, we didn’t speak at all, just swung in perfect rhythm and enjoyed the cricket concert and firefly show in our yard.
Other times, I perched on the swing and watched summer thunderstorms. My parents settled on the porch on weekday evenings and Sunday afternoons and waved to all the folks who drove by. Sometimes a car would stop and the driver would chat for a bit. Or the car would slowly turn into our driveway and the passengers would join us on the porch for some lively conversation.
The porch swing was always a big attraction. It just seemed that folks gravitated to it. I know I surely did.
It was where I swung my first baby to sleep many times that first summer and fall of her life while her daddy was in the military in a land far away. And when he finally came back to us and we moved once again to military base housing half-way across the country, I missed the porch swing.
Hubby bought one for me even though we didn’t have a big enough front porch to hang it on. Instead we suspended it from a metal frame and plunked it down in the back yard where my good friend and next-door neighbor and I would swing our babies and share stories that cemented our friendship.
Many years later when we lived in a Pacific Northwest suburb, we didn’t have much of a front porch again, instead we had what I would call a stoop. So the swing was relegated to a fenced-in tiny back yard where you felt secluded from all the neighborhood activity. So most of the time, I sat on the hard cement front steps. We lived in a cul-de-sac and I could watch my kids play with all the neighbor kids from the stoop. My neighbors were friendly folks and often a neighbor and I sat there to converse.
That cement stoop fit the design of the saltbox style house we lived in, but how I missed having a real front porch to place my back yard swing upon. That swing made the journey with us across the country to the place we now call home, this spot in the country.
The metal frame is gone and my swing hangs from chains attached to the ceiling of the front porch. The wooden swing has seen a lot of use, been cleaned and re-stained a few times, and it still is my happy place. Even now, sweet grandbaby loves to sway back and forth with Nana or Papa on that front porch swing.
Occasionally when I’m sitting on the front porch, someone will drive by and toot their horn. Even if I’m not certain who is beeping their greetings at us, I will throw up my arm and wave to acknowledge them.
And that often reminds me of one special old farmer man who always used to sit on his front porch too.
In between military life and our time in the Pacific Northwest, Papa and I lived with our three kiddoes in the Midwest. The land of wheat fields and sunflowers and an occasional tornado. We lived in the suburbs for the first few years and then opted to move out of the suburban area a little further.
We purchased a new home in a less developed area and traveled back and forth to more populated suburbs for shopping, or visits with friends, or trips into the city. The highway we used traveled through farmland that was yet to be developed and along that road sat an old farmhouse where old farmer man lived. Obviously retired and getting up in years, that gentleman could be seen sitting on his front porch, weather permitting.
And here’s the thing. He always waved to cars and trucks passing by his place. Always. Every single vehicle. Cars zoomed by and some folks ignored his greetings but still he waved whether people waved back to him or not.
Not long after we moved there, I pointed him out to my husband and children. And we began waving back to him every time he waved to us from his front porch. Every time.
It became a fun ritual. Our kids would watch to see if he was on the porch and lean out the open windows to vigorously wave to him. When he wasn’t out, my children seemed disappointed.
Then came a period of time when old farmer man wasn’t on his porch very often. Wondering if he was ill or incapacitated in some way, we missed his waves. Those short-lived encounters we enjoyed with this gentleman we didn’t even know had made our hearts happy.
And then one sunny, warm spring day, my children and I were on our way back home from some excursion and we were nearing farmer man’s house. I looked, hoping but not really expecting to see him on his front porch. And he was there!
I slowed the car down and exclaimed, “Look, quick, farmer man’s on his porch!” to my kids. They all threw their arms out the windows and waved to him excitedly.
He had already thrown up his arm and hand in greeting, but when he spotted my children grinning and waving like there was no tomorrow, his wave immediately changed.
A huge smile burst on his face as he leaned forward in his chair, then extended his arm in front of him and waved a rapid little continuous hand greeting from his wrist just like you would to a child.
Joy. I like to think that’s what farmer man experienced that day waving to my children. I know that’s what was in our hearts. And all these years – more than 20 years later – I still feel joy in my heart for that day. And for farmer man’s waves.
And that’s what I miss. The joy of people being neighborly. The joy of making others happy with just a smile or a friendly greeting. Maybe just a wave of a hand.
Instead I see rudeness. I see inconsiderate people. I see strangers glaring at others instead of extending a hand of friendship. I see strife and anger and even downright meanness. And it makes me sad.
I live in a rural area outside a small town. You would think it would be friendlier than folks in the city, wouldn’t you? Some people are friendly…to those they already know.
I live in a rural area where houses have front porches yet I don’t even know my neighbors, except for John next door who my husband chats with occasionally when they are both outside. He’s a good neighbor and Papa enjoys talking with him.
But when I tried to be neighborly with folks down the road and hand deliver their mail which was accidentally delivered to our mail box, I was treated rudely and practically had the door slammed in my face without even a thank you.
Call me old-fashioned. Call me nostalgic. But I continue to sit on my front porch, swinging on the porch swing, and yearning for simpler times when folks treated one another with kindness and consideration. When they visited one another just for conversation. Or maybe just waved to a stranger.
“I nod to a passing stranger, and the stranger nods back, and two human beings go off, feeling a little less anonymous.” ~Robert Brault