4.3 The Journal, Porches and Stoops

PORCHES

I grew up in a town where the houses had porches.  The last house I lived in that had a porch was on Commerce Street in Bridgeton, New Jersey.  It was also the last house that had an attic—not just a crawl space but a couple of rooms.

The attic was the playroom for me and my sisters.

The house also had a porch but I don’t recall we ever sat there.

Fast forward about fifty years, I was passing through Independence, Missouri.  For the life of me I can’t remember where I was going to or coming from.    But, I know to tune into brown signs signaling historical landmarks.  One sign announced Harry Truman’s home, a National Historic site maintained by our National Parks Service.

When I visited the home was in wonderful condition, the furnishings well cared for and the kitchen appliances, were 1940’s modern.  And the house had a front porch.

When Harry and Bess retired from their job in Washington in 1952 they returned to Independence to their handsome home replete with front and side porches.  According to the docent, the Trumans spent a lot of time on their front porch.  As retired citizens in Small Town, America, they would wave to neighbors walking by and invite them to come and sit.  (“Sit a spell”, I hope).

Things changed somewhat in 1962 after the Kennedy assassination.  The Secret Service took charge of the protection of Ex-Presidents.   A wrought iron fence was built between the front lawn and sidewalk and I wonder if it did not have some cooling effect on invitations.

Times have changed, I know.  And I get it that we need fences.  But I can’t help wondering if the world would be a better place if we could get our porches back.

STOOPS

One of the jobs I had in the early years, before I heard the siren call of the Goddess of the Caribbean Beachcombers, was as a tech editor for a Massachusetts electronics company.  I had a basement room half-way up South Russell on Beacon Hill.  The street no longer exists, but my memory of it does.  White marble steps scrubbed as white as kitchen appliances.  The street was peopled with an equal mix of Italians and Irish who sat on their front steps (known locally as stoops) in the summer after the heat of the day dissipated.

The genetic connection between stoops and porches escaped me until this particular daydream.  Outside of the castle walls yet within hailing distance of a passerby, porches and stoops are at that fuzzy edge between privacy and a social medium.  Both are a physical manifestation of a spiritual need: the need to connect–safely.  Long before Social Media invaded our lives, porches were an un-intrusive way to meet your neighbors.

Big Joe was a popular outgoing man and his stoop often hosted Italian folks.  Big Mike was his Irish counterpart.  It was as though they were the mayors of their part of the street.  I lived in the geographic center of their communities.  Friendly with both Joe and Mike, I sat on their stoops.  And they would sit on mine.  Joe and Mike never sat on one another’s stoop but sometimes both could be found on mine.

And I can’t help wondering if the world would be a better place if we had more white marble steps that got regular vigorous scrubbing.

7 Responses to 4.3 The Journal, Porches and Stoops

  1. Colleen Rae says:

    Very nostolgic, Al. Of a time long past, but not forgotten. I remember in my childhood people sat on the screened-in porch and visited. Some would bring their instruments, banjos, guitars, and sing and play music. Children would dance and cavort. Everyone seemed happy. They smiled. I miss those days. And yes, the world would probably be a better place if time was still there. At least, there would be no radiation to kill the fish and people. No anger against certain religious sects, no Sturgeon to kill the fish in Lake Michigan. Life would be simplier and perhaps better.

  2. karen wittgraf says:

    The porch! My front porch on 22nd Ave represents my childhood. I so often recall my mother sitting on that big screened porch watching the neighborhood folk walk by. I would sit next to her while she muttered (like a female WC Fields) comments about each one of them..”There goes old man Warner with his overcoat pockets bulging with booze bottles”…”Oh look at old Mrs. Barsimmian- all dolled up, ready to ‘run the streets’…it was a comedy right before my eyes.

  3. Thanks for the plug, AL!

    Our world in New York was the backyard. We lived in rural Westchester County NY (I’ve written about this on my webpage), so we didn’t have a back porch. We had stoops when my mom and I lived in Oshkosh, WI, but I didn’t spend much time on them, as they were landlord-occupied apartments, or they were much too small for sitting. Elizabeth’s and my new place has a rear court. Maybe if Fortune turns, we’ll have a porch some day.

  4. Barbara G. says:

    Al,

    In Boston’s South End we used the steps and stoops to have Sunday evening stoop parties where people stopped by with “pot luck” appetizers and drinks. This was in the mild weather of course.

    It was colder for Halloween but anyone who wanted to give out candy and see the kids and costumes, brought a big bowl of goodies and sat outside. After the kids were gone, someone offered their condo for continuing the party. I miss the stoops.

  5. Linda says:

    We sat on the North facing back steps throughout the warm days. The concrete was cool on the butt and dad would have us scratch his back, peel off the sunburn or treat a bug bite. For most folks air conditioning changed all that it pulled them indoors now our homes are heated or cooled and the screens never used and the porch is decoration.

  6. Kymberlie says:

    Here in the Bay Area, in Concord, our porches are very small. The biggest one in any home I ever lived in was maybe ten feet long and three feet front to back, with a small railing on it. We also never had an attic, or a basement, or any of those fun hideaway places. One home did have a pool house, but that was more Dad’s hideaway than ours.

    So, how is it I can feel such nostalgia for something we never had?

    Another great piece, Al.

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