Today, I allowed myself to think about porches. I thought about one porch in particular, a place where I spent many hours in my childhood. My grandparent’s porch. The above picture is not that house. That house from my childhood was torn down last year.
My grandparents’ front porch was an inviting place. The house didn’t have air-conditioning. Much of the year, the most temperate space was the porch, where breezes came off the bayou, and curled around the branches of the two ancient oaks on the side of the small house.
Every so often, my mother took the white Buick into town. I stayed behind as a preschooler with my grandparents who lived a short distance away from our house. Grandma was usually busy in the kitchen or the back porch, so I had to make the best of the situation by being entertained by my grandfather on the front porch. When I knew him in the 60s and early 70s, he kept to the front porch most days. He had suffered a stroke years before I was born. It left him unable to take but a few halting steps.
Grandpa liked to play little games with me. You know those little games, where one has to turn over your hand rapidly to avoid a slap from a partner. He could play endless variations of this game with me in the heat of the afternoon. The time would pass, but I tired of the games that I rarely won.
Then, grandpa, sensing my impatience, passed to his favorite activity with me which was to teach me short phrases of Cajun French. I would listen and repeat until I had the words memorized. Then, grandpa invariably insisted that I share my new knowledge with grandma. I usually preferred to walk around the house to the back of the house, finding her there on the back porch or in the kitchen.
I would say, “Grandma, *&%&#@!”
Immediately, Grandma’s head would snap around to me.
“What did you say?”, she would say urgently.
“Well, Grandma, *&&^%$$!”
“Who taught you to say such a thing?” she would tersely ask.
“Grandpa…” I would say timidly.
“Oh, no! Grandpa would NEVER say that and don’t say those words again.” she would say firmly.
Rebuked, I headed out of the back door and walked to the front of the house where grandpa sat, chuckling under his breath. This happened time after time. I never seemed to remember that grandpa’s “lessons” were definitely not appreciated by grandma or, for that matter, any other adult in my childhood.
Later on in my life, I put the Cajun aphorisms I learned from grandpa to good use. These words were good to know in junior high. I had a few unsuspecting teachers who weren’t schooled in Cajun French. With a smile on my lips, I would answer an unsuspecting teacher with “kiss my a** ” in Cajun French. When asked what it meant, I would sweetly reply that it meant “yes, ma’am” or “no, sir.”
As an adolescent, I was glad for my early porch time lessons. Grandpa had died by that time, so I couldn’t thank him properly. However, I smile a bit now when I remember his off-color lessons, as I stood by him on the front porch, as I patiently memorized Cajun French. I am grateful for the times I had with him on the front porch as well as the times with grandma on the back porch as she reacted to my words. This is just one reason why I like porches.
6 thoughts on “In Praise of Porches”
Front porches reflect evolving societal attitudes. In Chicago, older urban dwellings had front “stoops” as they were called, where on a hot day people would sit and talk with passersby, exchange gossip and general acknowledge each other’s existence.
More modern houses cut out the stoops, perhaps because of security concerns or wanting to use every square inch of precious urban land. Walls became the rage.
In Yucatan, we found that most older houses had wide porches, with rocking chairs awaiting visitors. But up here, in San Miguel de Allende, blank walls with a single door seem to be the norm, even in colonial houses, as if to say “stay out.” Modern houses are even more forbidding, shutting out any connection between street and private life.
What does it all mean? I don’t know. Sorry.
I hadn’t thought about the social aspects of porches in a while. Good reminder. However, I do think that part of the popularity of the stoop and porch has to do with the lack of air conditioning. Sitting outside in summer months is almost gone for good. The only time I saw people outside was in the first part of the pandemic. As my neighborhood grappled with staying at home, many became more open to being outside and as least acknowledging our neighbors from appropriate social distancing.
I grew up amongst people who lived in houses with porches that went socially unused. I don’t know why. Weather in Oregon is not as sultry as your Louisiana weather, but I am not certain that is the reason.
In my part of Mexico, the sidewalk in front of houses serves as the front porch. And it is a sociable place. Not being a very sociable guy, I have a terrace where I sit alone and read about young ladies learning to cuss in Cajun French. That is good enough for me.
I love a good porch. I am sorry your Oregon porches were not social hubs. In Honduras, houses were increasingly isolated fortresses, even in cities as more and more fortifications had to be added to keep out gang members. Socializing of any sort with the public didn’t happen. I have an unused front porch on my house now. It’s even equipped with a ceiling fan and 2 rockers. Do I use it? No. I prefer to sit inside with air conditioning and the television.
I admire houses with front porches. It makes a house look grand, unlike, just a stoop. After living in a few houses with front porches and still wishing I had one, I think I’ve sat on my present stoop more. If I choose to socialize with the neighbors or just people watch, it’s the place to be.
I thought I lived in a quiet suburb but covid has taught me otherwise. In the last few months while sitting on my stoop, having my early morning coffee and in the afternoon sipping my ice tea, my block transformes into Central Park. It’s been as entertaining as a new tv series… with some personal interaction.
A nice porch can transform a mediocre house into a place of beauty. I’m glad you’re having the opportunity to enjoy your street view while sitting on your stoop. I am getting to know some of my neighbors by riding my bicycle in our little neighborhood. I don’t my porch, but I should! After all, I wrote a blog post praising porches!