The Front Porch

A coffee table book on an unlikely subject caught my eye as I browsed through the book store. Front porches. How, I thought, how could there be enough to say about front porches to fill an entire book? But on looking through it, I saw many pictures of front porches of every size and style imaginable with interesting people sitting in groups eating, drinking, playing cards, reading, sleeping.

The peace and comfort of the images jumped off the pages and seemed to justify the book’s thesis that a front porch is where the real activity of families happens. I then realized how much of my own family life had occurred on two particular front porches of my life.

Both porches were so similar, stretching across the entire front of each house, with screens that had to be put up and taken down each season. Both were also furnished with a tattered old porch swing or a couch, a couple of wicker rocking chairs, discarded footstools and end tables. Everything that might have been donated to charity ended up on the front porch

The front porch at my parent’s Madison home is where we end up on any fair weather day. Even though it’s crowded and clumsy when maneuvering snacks and drinks, it seems to be the place where most of my family feels free to kick back, enjoy each other and discuss the most important topics of our day. I’m sure the laughter of my brothers and sisters echoed through the neighborhood as we cajoled Dad to turn off his far right wing talk radio. The faint refrain of the gleeful cries of Badger fans from nearby Camp Randall blew down the street, making us feel we were in the midst of the action.

But the front porch of my high school years in Fond du Lac was, to my mind, the most comfy place in the whole house even though it wasn’t really even in the house. I’d come back from shopping and that’s where I headed, flopping down on the cushioned old rocking chair to show my latest finds to whoever was around. I’d spent hours out there reading. What was most fun was watching, and listening as the world walked by. Amazing what people said when they thought no one was within hearing range.

All through high school, on most nights after supper, we migrated to the front porch as soon as the dishes were done. The faint beams from the living room were our only lighting, casting silhouettes as we settled in. That’s probably why we talked so much. The shadows promoted a feeling of anonymity. The radio played softly, the night air was fresh and activity on the street was nonexistent. It was a perfect time for dreaming.

Mother would make popcorn almost every night. My younger brothers and sisters came and left depending on how hungry or curious they were. It was mostly mom and me. High school was tough and having someone who was interested in my latest crisis was heartening. She’d first ask general questions about school, classes and friends. Then she’d get around to my latest crush or boyfriend. How was it going. That kind of stuff.

Things intensified in my senior year, when it came to Don, an older guy I was seeing and who had real potential in my eyes. When Don had met someone else and we were no longer dating, the situation seemed ripe for mom’s analysis. She was full of ideas about what I had done or didn’t do to keep him interested and what I could or should do to get him back.

At first I enjoyed these talks, but after a while, we seemed to be going over the same stuff. Mom was more interested than me. I look back now and wonder if she was living through me a bit. She seemed to really get a kick out of my stories and was full of advice.

As the weeks turned into months, I had given up on Don and moved on to other boys and interests but she seemed so persistent. Couldn’t we talk about something else, I wondered. I remember the night I purposely didn’t go out to the front porch after supper. Mom seemed hurt but accepting. Her little girl didn’t need her in the same way. Mom had five other kids to talk to and worry about, so I’m sure she found someone else to nurture.

I cherish those times on both front porches. Though part of different stages of my life, both hold fond memories of family life, serious family drama and invitations to peace and comfort.


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