In my grandmother’s time, and even in my younger days, porch visiting was an almost daily social event.
In the Carolina countryside, where summers are hot and long, no respectable house was considered complete without a porch. They were almost as necessary as the kitchen and for a considerable part of the year became the outdoor apartment for family and friends.
Porches were at the center of family life. They provided relaxation, and social interaction even after the darkening shadows inked the landscape. Somehow they marked the endings and beginnings of daily life. And for more times than I can remember, it seems the whole family was there, and now I can see we were all just passing through.
Most porches were pretty simple, no architectural wonders, just reflections of the folks that lived their simple lives there. Rocking chairs lined up in a companionable row begged a body to stop and ‘sit a spell.’ Pots of flowers. I remember, “Three Sisters Roses” bowls of Sweet William, placed here and there, replenished on Saturday, always fresh for Sunday and the new week: ready to welcome the preacher in his fine hat, with his dainty wife and handfuls of little ones, tagging right along. This was real. I close my eyes and even now I can see the sunlight fading on the weathered old porch boards, and the shadows that tugged gently over the garden.
The smells of honeysuckle vines growing in abandoned splendor around the sides of the porch, wrapped us in fragrance. Laughter and conversation, musty old pipes and excited children, they were all there.
When I visited, it seemed those moody southern nights stretched on forever: until exhausted with that sweet exhaustion only childhood offers, we stumbled, sleepily and contentedly to our feather beds to rest under the eye of the moon.
I guess there were a few very elaborate porches, sporting fancy wicker rockers and dazzling lounging sofas. Grandma’s was perfect, from my point of view. But, it certainly wasn’t fancy. Her rocking chairs were well worn, having rocked from the cradle to the grave more often than not. There were two extra large tables at one end. And they were big enough to accommodate any amount of regular or unexpected family or friends for a good “Country Feed.”
There were always baskets of something, butterbeans or peas; something waiting to be shelled or shucked mostly by Granny, but anybody who dropped by was welcome. Someone just handed you a pan and you started shelling.
Old fashion oil-lamps guided us into the night, shining their soft glow, accentuating the faces of the young and old alike. Surrounded by the sounds of night, there was a familiar closeness as we embraced the lengthening shadows that fell like gentle fingers across the old porch. We were home. And was there ever a glass of tea or lemonade that tasted better? And was there ever to be again that complete gentle happiness and security that held us so easily in this circle of light?
Some porches boasted swings suspended from the ceiling with chains. My grandmother had one of these. A little lop-sided, but the ‘courting cousins’ liked it just fine. The hypnotic creaking of the swing invited you to dreamland. Add to that the coolness of a summer shower and the crankiest baby was carried gently in the arms of sleep.
So looking back I see how those brief whirligigs of time slid peacefully, one day into another, so easily that we hardly noticed. Such a wonderful gift that was! And so we watched, we listened, we laughed, and we learned from that passing show of life that traveled all around us. The porch was a perfect vantage point. Clustered protectively among a caring family, we children were at the nucleus of the most powerful force in the universe, “family.”
I can hear their voices even now, “Evenin’, come and sit a spell. You children settle on down .” The squeak of the chairs, and the glow of the lamp guiding uncertain little feet stumbling in the darkness to the safety of the old porch.
“In the sweet by and by, we shall meet on that beautiful shore.” Keep singing Granny, it was the prettiest music I’ve ever heard.
Micki Cottle was a long-time columnist for The Sampson Independent who occassionally regales readers with her wit and charm. She is also a member of the Sampson County Historical Society.