Missing the Front Porch

Each month I take thousands of photos.  Documenting weddings, first communions, and newborn baby’s first smiles is just one of my many jobs.  There are two photo made of me more than 35 years ago that remain my favorite.  The photos were taken by my older brother.  There was no special occasion.  As I recall, it was just a typical afternoon at my grandparents house.  


As I look back, their lives were so much different from ours today.  My grandmother got up early everyday to get the coffee percolating, the biscuits made, and prepare for the rest of the family to join her at the breakfast table.  No, she didn’t pull out her instant coffee or open up one of those long slender cans of biscuits.  She kept a bucket of flour, lard, and other key ingredients to roll out a fresh batch of biscuits at every meal.  


She was a unique person.  I’ve never really met anyone like her.  Her days were spent making her own dresses, reading her Bible, tending their large garden, and taking care of my grandfather.  She never once wore a pair of pants.  She believed those were reserved for men only.


Her front porch, which is where these photos were taken, was also special.  Our lives sort of revolved around it.  It was a gathering place for family, friends, and neighbors.  Porch culture isn’t what it used to be!  Porches were a necessity back in those days.  Most people didn’t have air conditioning in their homes so the porch, whether it was screened in or the broad, columned veranda, became the gathering place for iced tea and gossip. There was never a need for an invitation either.  People just walked up to each other’s porches to say “hi” or catch up on the day’s events.


In Scott Cook’s “Evolution of the American Front Porch” he writes, “The porch also automatically allowed for a certain degree of community supervision of children in that any child playing on the street was in view of any adult sitting on a porch—and since neighbors were familiar with one another thanks to their porches, the idea of looking out for someone else’s child did not seem foreign.”  


That is so true!  I remember riding my bike once by my grandparents house and being shouted at by one of their neighbors to “watch for the traffic” ahead.  That’s just what neighbors did during those front porch days.    


I rarely see people sitting on the front porch anymore.  I’m sure the culture of fear has driven many inside with news of drive-by shootings and other crimes.  Of course many of us have transitioned inside our homes glued to the television, computers, or just spoiled by the air conditioning.   


I sure wish I knew what made my grandfather laugh in that one photo.   Perhaps it was someone who stopped by in the yard, or something I said to him moments before the photo was made.  Or maybe it was just his front porch state of mind knowing that all was right with the world standing beside me.  Quiet, tranquil, secure, and peaceful.  If only the world had a front porch like they did back then.