In the movies, city people’s front porches are magnificent affairs, designed to set the tone for the sophistication and refinement the visitor is certain to find inside. The entry will be a grandiose sight, surrounded by beautiful landscaping, large columns supporting an utterly useless roof, and an entry door that cost more than my first car. Likewise, Hollywood loves portraying the front porch of country people as the place where folks display their fine collection of surplus furniture littered with slack-jawed yokels sitting around in their bare feet, spitting tobacco and playing banjos. For country people, this is a really irritating stereotype. We always wore shoes when we sat on the porch.
An old country comedian, James Gregory, once had a routine where he bemoaned the fact that we have decks these days, not porches. We spend our time on the deck where we cook, entertain, and socialize. We decorate them with expensive furniture and lights and sometimes we even equip them with music. In short, he surmised, our decks are for showing off. I agree. Decks just aren’t porches.
In the years before my grandparents were killed, they lived on a farm, and they had a wonderful porch. I loved it. It was a different era. The men worked in the fields all day while the women cooked, cleaned, canned food, and sewed the bulk of the clothes.
At the end of the day, the porch became the setting for the most special time of the day. It was a time for rocking, whittling, telling stories, reflecting on life, and passing knowledge from elder to youngster.
If you never had the experience of everybody con- gregating on the porch at the end of the day, take my word for it—time on the porch was different.
Typically, the men would arrive on the porch first while the women cleaned up from the evening meal. Often the men were still focused on work, so their discussions were work-related. By the time the women joined them, the men likely would have moved on to telling fishing stories or teasing us kids.
From time to time the discussions would branch off into two separate conversations—the men talking about one thing, the women another. But, the conversation would inevitably shift to politics, religion, gossip or family, and when that happened, both men and women would usually drift back into the same discussion.
While the adults talked, my brother and I would quietly play on the porch with our toy cars, trucks, and tractors. Sometimes we would lie in the cool grass and watch for falling stars. Air conditioning was rare on the Prairie in those days, so people would open up the windows and doors to let their house cool off before bedtime. All of those windows and doors were equipped with screens which collected all kinds of bugs that kept my brother and I entertained. For all of us, evening was our favorite time of day, and the porch was just a great place to be.
Many valuable discussions took place on that porch. A lot of time was spent openly questioning the wisdom of certain choices. Quandaries were weighed, and decisions were second-guessed. Morals, values, and wisdom were openly discussed and debated. Of course, it wasn’t all serious. Occasional yarns were spun, and jokes were told. Bonds were constantly reaffirmed. Morals, values, and maturity were openly taught, and wisdom was ultimately passed down from grandparents to parents and to grandkids.
It really is a shame that we don’t spend time on the porch anymore. As it happens now, our days end without reflection time—or time to pass on lessons learned the hard way. Even if you never live on a farm, or if your porch is a lot different from the one I remember, I really think that you should consider ending some of your days “on the porch” like we did on the farm. No TV or music, just time to talk, reflect, and bond with your children. It would do wonders for your relationships—even if it happens on a deck.
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