Praise for the humble porch

Wednesday, August 2, 2006

There aren't many places on this planet better than the porch of a house. I don't think I've ever come across one I didn't like, and every type has its advantages.

Open air porch -- "Love it, just feel that summer breeze!"

Screened in porch -- "Saves a bundle on mosquito repellent."

Front porch -- "Honey, what the heck are the Johnsons up to across the street?"

Backyard porch -- "Thank God those Johnsons from across the street can't see what we're doing."

With porches you just can't go wrong.

Things that are only ho-hum-good when they happen inside are somehow memorable when enjoyed out on the porch. For example, lemonade: it tastes good inside with the AC humming, but it tastes great outside with a chorus of cicadas serenading the neighborhood.

Or for the older crowd: beer. Sure, the suds are nice inside with your feet kicked up and the ballgame on the tube. But tell me a cold one isn't better outside with Mike Shannon calling the game on the radio.

And finally: a long chat with a close friend or family member. How many movies can you remember where the father gives the kid advice out on the porch? I can think of hundreds. Advice just seems to carry more weight when it's given on a porch.

Think Atticus Finch and Scout in "To Kill A Mockingbird." Could he have told her, "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view," from anywhere other than the front porch swing? Somehow the breakfast nook wouldn't have sufficed for that conversation.

But in fairness, I'm a little biased. At my house the porch was just about the sweetest spot I could imagine. To this day walking out there takes me on a trip back in time.

Every detail feels like it's just where it should be; where it's always been.

There's the big red brick arches fitted with screened wiring; perfect for keeping the creepy crawlies at bay. And the floor tiles that seemed to stay cool on bare feet even in the hottest of summer days. There's the old fan, perilously bolted somewhere up in the ceiling plaster. Turning it on high speed is a test of nerves. It shutters and shivers, its screws holding on for dear life.

I even love the dusty lawn furniture with cushions that hide cockroaches and fossilized crumbs.

Every year came the first day warm enough to eat dinner outside. It was always a banner day in the Greaney household. Hamburgers, buttery corn, vinaigre-soaked salad and peach pie all made appearances.

During and after dinner we would hear bubbling sounds from neighbors as they enjoyed the weather in their own little porch havens. The mother of the family across the street had a laugh that echoed throughout the neighborhood.

And sometimes friends would just walk on over and pull up a chair. Something about a family sitting on a front porch makes them seem approachable. Like you don't have to apologize for inviting yourself. And people would stay. Because porch time is just plain different from inside time. Where a guest in the living room might worry about outstaying his welcome, out on the porch there's always time for another drink.

So why am I writing all this? Because National Public Radio is doing a series on the decline of the front porch. It seems more and more houses are being built without them. NPR is asking people if this will change our culture and our neighborhoods. I'd have to say yes. How 'bout you?

TJ Greaney is a staff reporter for the Southeast Missourian.

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