Anne Notations

Thursday, August 13, 2009

On the porch


While I am grateful for the near-ubiquity of air conditioning – I'm not a hot/humid person by constitution – I dearly enjoy sitting outside in an Adirondack chair or "granny rocker" on the front porch, even on hot days. Almost always there is a fragment of breeze that helps cool a sweaty brow.

As a very young girl, I spent time on my grandparents' front porch in Fairhaven, Mass. I'd sit in Grandma's lap and we'd rock.. rock... rock. Neighbors would stop on their way up the street, and everyone would catch up on the town gossip. During the Hurricane of '54, Grandpa and I stood on that porch in our slickers and watched firemen in rowboats paddling up and down the flooded streets. The porch was like a reverse stage, a balcony where we watched things happen. We saw and were seen. I have loved that prospect ever since.

All of the five houses Michael and I have owned in 34 years have had front porches or decks; it's one of those requirements I have for my living space. For two years while Michael finished his PhD we rented a really nice, big second-floor apartment in Providence. But there was no porch, and I felt trapped, hemmed-in, cut off from life at street level. I vowed we would never again live somewhere without same-floor access to the outdoors.

Front porches seemed to have been favored on both sides of my family. Photo albums hold many a sepia image of great-great ancestors on porches, like the German-Americans photographed, above, in St. Louis early in the last century. The woman on the right was my maternal great-grandmother, Elizabeth Brune Girthofer. When it was hot, the women would sit and rock in the evenings and cool themselves with pleated paper fans adorned with Japanese motifs – peonies, kimono-clad ladies, cranes.

I have a few of Grandma's paper fans still, but they feel overly dainty in my big strong hands, relics of a time when ladies bathed and powdered themselves on hot days, then sat in fresh, light dresses on the porch with glasses of homemade lemonade. I'm a shorts-and-tank-tops gal myself, broad-shouldered like my dad's side of the family, tall, solid, outdoorsy. Filmy dresses and flowered fans really aren't my style – or anyone else's in this day and age. But porches – ah, they will never go out of fashion, thank God.

Late this hot afternoon, Kevin and I walked down our road to the beach and went swimming as the evening tide surged in. The water was just right – cool enough to be refreshing, warm enough not to shock my body as I walked into the low surf. We floated and bobbed for a half-hour, luxuriating in the cool waves and the bay views, then returned home and sat on the front porch, me in the Adirondack chair, Kevin on the railing. The air was still heavily warm, but my wet bathing suit and a slight breeze cooled me. Mumbling bees and the bright tissue-paper wings of excited butterflies darted around the flowering plants to my left; our just-turned 17 son, tall and strong and suddenly manly, lazed to my right. There really wasn't anywhere else I wanted to be.

Thanks to Neil for the inspiration.

6 Comments:

  • What a wonderful piece! I'm honored to have inspired/prompted it. These are great memories, well articulated. I particularly liked this line, "But porches – ah, they will never go out of fashion, thank G-d," and then the closing paragraph it segues into.

    Is that an actual photograph of yours, with your maternal great grandmother in it? Wow!

    By Blogger rabbi neil fleischmann, at Mon Aug 17, 11:27:00 AM EDT  

  • Thanks, Neil. Yes, that's an actual photo of my great-grandmother and other ancestors. I have scrapbooks full of them, inherited from my late grandmother. Most of them are in our storage cube (climate-controlled etc.) because we lack much storage in our present house. I need to go through them someday. (Good intentions, yadda yadda...!) My great-grandma was alive until I was 5 years old. She remains one of my favorite people ever. I spent a lot of time with her at my grandparents' house (the same house with the porch) in my preschool years, and she was patient and sweet to me as the day was long. My middle name, Elizabeth, is in her honor.

    By Blogger Anne D., at Mon Aug 17, 01:50:00 PM EDT  

  • Sounds heavenly, Anne. We are working on getting a front porch added to our home. I can't wait until I can sit out there and look through the dappled shade of our palo verdes to the street show beyond.

    By Blogger Dawn, at Mon Aug 17, 03:42:00 PM EDT  

  • Makes me really want a porch, and the money to install porches around the neighborhood. Why did they stop including porches in these subdivisions? I thought the other point of a subdivision was having a friendly neighborhood, besides getting away from the city.

    By Blogger Karen, at Tue Aug 18, 11:36:00 AM EDT  

  • Loved this piece, Anne. Makes me think of spending hot summer evenings with my grandma, sitting on the front steps of her country home under the giant pepper tree.

    Thanks for stirring up these very happy memories.

    Juli

    By Anonymous JM, at Tue Aug 18, 02:07:00 PM EDT  

  • Such a great photo, and porch memories are some of the best.

    By Blogger BrideOfPorkins, at Sun Aug 23, 08:48:00 PM EDT  

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