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.
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.