Front Porches made for good conversation
Last night I was sitting at my desk putting the
finishing touches on an announcement for the Auburn Historical Society
concerning the Auburn Autumn Days Festival.
Uninvited, but welcome
guests from the past came to call and in my imagination I heard a screen
porch door open and close. The sound brought back memories of warm summer
evenings when I was a child on my grandparents’ front porch in
Before television and air
conditioning put such a distance between people and the outdoors, a good
front porch was considered as essential to a house as a roof. Porch
furniture was mostly hodgepodge, and included old rocking chairs or straight
In the case of my front
porch there was also a long, hard, church pew. One had to bring a pillow out
to sit on, if one wanted to be comfortable. There were flowers in all sorts
of pots lined up orderly across the front of the porch. An image of those
pots always pops in my head when someone says, “Have you got all your ducks
in a row?’ With me it’s pots in a row.
In the warm months the
porch was where all the story telling went on after the dishes were done. A
porch still means communication to me.
At night, as a small
child, sitting just outside the circle of grownups, listening, the
conversation inevitably turned to family. My grandfather would speak vaguely
England, my grandmother of
Ireland; both of them beyond the
memory of their past geography. But, I was a child who loved words and later
when I recalled these conversations as an adult, they helped me to find
eight generations of the Sams and Allen ancestors.
In those years on summer
evenings when the sun slowly slipped away and the air cooled, the people of
Auburn collectively moved to their front
porches of front yards. This was the best time of day for me. I would pass
some time with Mrs. Ruth Pottinger on her side porch, move on to help Miss
Nell Childress clap two boards together to scare the birds out of the trees
in front of her house, thus preserving the cleanliness of her sidewalk.
Retracing my steps, I
would walk as far as the street light in front of Mr. Percy Hurt’s and his
sister, Ms. Whitaker’s home. Usually they would be sitting on their side
porch and so would Mr. And Mrs. Mize next door to them. They always seemed
interested in discussing my busy day of play.
Next door to my home, my
best friend, Gertrude Hadden, was too busy to visit in the evening.
Mr. Pete, Sybil and
Vernon were home and after all I had her
ear during the day. Mrs. Blanche Apperson, another pal of mine, had a
television and though it was inside, it was as close to the porch as
possible; the long window beside it, open to catch the breeze and the sound
of the street.
After my other visits, I
kept her company until I was called home for bed. We often discussed John
Cameron Swazey advertising the waterproof Timex watch that “took a beating,
but kept on ticking,” We felt sure, given the opportunity, we could disprove
his claim. I never see the word ‘Timex’ today without thinking of her.
By moving to the front
porch and front yard in the evening, occupants extended an open invitation
to the passerby and cast wide the net of community. Often “it’s been a hot
one” would be enough for a passerby to stop for a chat about the weather.
The knock on the front door that heralded winter visits was placed away like
our winter coats.
Sometimes we just sat and
watched the fireflies light up the night to the tune of a cicada-song.
Always in the background were the familiar voices of children and their
families along the street, who gathered to talk about life, or simply to
listen to it.
The wealth of
Auburn to me now, is, as it has always
been; its people.