Memories of Front Porches & Verandas
by Sandra Lee Smith
Do you have special memories of sitting on a front porch swing, or playing Monopoly on a rainy summer day under the shelter of your best friend’s front porch? Houses today seem to be sans front porches--do people know how much they are missing?
Perhaps some do. While researching this topic, I discovered that a few years ago, NPR radio did a series on porches, and their program “All Things Considered” began “Examining the front porch; its history, its role in American life and literature and its rich symbolism”. NPR even discovered a Professional Porch Sitters Union Local 1339, founded by someone in Louisville Kentucky. They noted, “The group doesn’t have a motto, just a suggestion: ‘Sit down a spell. That can wait.” There is even a book called “Out on the Porch”; first published by Algonquin Books in 1992, it’s been so popular that it’s still in print and led to an annual porch calendar!
Recently, one of my retiree groups enjoyed a lively email discussion of the porches and verandas of our childhoods.
For me, the front porch pivotal to my childhood was on the second floor of my grandparents’ house on Baltimore Street in Cincinnati. Grandma’s children, two sons and a daughter, continued to live in this house after they got married, until they had enough money to buy their own homes. It was a large three-storied brick house that was divided into apartments. Grandma and Grandpa had resided on the second floor. The others lived above or below them. But--everyone sat out on the second floor porch on hot summer nights, to cool off, and wait for the ice cream man to make his way up Baltimore Street. If we couldn’t afford ice cream Grandma used a hammer to crush ice wrapped in a towel, and then spooned jelly on top of the ice--homemade snow cones!
My grandparents’ home was next to a cemetery, and every year there was a huge Memorial Day parade. From the porch, we had a fine view of the parade as the bands and flag-waving marchers made their way up the street and into the cemetery, where there was a monument to the soldiers who had died in World War II. Local politicians, the mayor perhaps, gave speeches.
My parents’ home on Sutter Street, where we moved when I was five, had a narrow porch but it was spacious enough for three little girls to play games of Monopoly or Uncle Wiggly, to play with paper dolls or make clothing for our little dolls (Before Barbie). My girlfriend Patti’s parents had a much nicer, larger front porch but our favorites were those of two elderly ladies who lived on either side of Patti’s house, both of which boasted porch swings. These gentle ladies kept us supplied with fabric scraps for our sewing projects. Patti had a baby brother and we would spend hours rocking him in Mrs. Babel’s front porch swing, trying to put the baby to sleep while we girls sang harmony. (Our repertoire was limited--“You Are My Sunshine” was a favorite).
Children also gathered on someone’s front porch on summer evenings, when we had tired of running, skipping, shouting, and chasing one another, and were just content to sit a while. We sang - one by one someone would stand up and sing a song. My brother Biff only knew the words to “Jimmy Crack Corn” so that was his song. I often sang “Dear Hearts and Gentle People”. We’d sing until one by one someone’s mother would call “It’s time to come in!”
In my email Retiree group, Sharon shared her memories of the veranda of her childhood: “Early in the spring,” she wrote, “I can remember my grandmother (who lived with us) and my mother sweeping the debris from winter away, washing down the posts and railings, and then painting the veranda. My dad…would hang up these wooden blinds on two sides so one half of the porch could be closed in. An old rug was laid down on the floor. A swinging glider was put at one end along with several old easy chairs with puffy cushions. A couple of old wicker tables sat beside these chairs…”
“The blinds would be up in the evenings and mornings,” Sharon recalled, “to allow the breezes in, but lowered in the hot afternoon sun. It was this place, where my brother and I would run to, crying with our childhood tales or with excitement to relate something very important to my mom or grandma. They would be sitting relaxed in the easy chairs, my mother always reading and my grandmother usually darning or knitting. They would drop whatever they were doing to listen and then my mom would go inside to bring out some lemonade or milk and cookies….The porch was a ‘safe haven’ and I remember rainy days; friends would come over and we’d have our crafts spread out across the rug. My brother would have a friend over and they were at the other end of the veranda with their marbles or plastic cowboys and Indians…”
On very humid and hot nights, my parents would sometimes let us sleep outside on the slider and two of the chairs pulled together. That was in the days when we didn’t lock our doors and shut our windows at night….”
Marge recalls “My sisters and I loved to play jacks on the front porch. We also used it for a stage for performing our own plays...we also spent a lot of time there in the summertime...Uncles, aunts, cousins, and friends would come to visit on weekends, and adults sat in the glider while children played in the front yard….”
Sharon concluded her memories observing that children growing up in today’s world miss out on a lot. I agree. Houses don’t seem to have porches anymore. Does anyone know how much they’re missing?