The Front Porch

Our front porch got more use during the summer than the winter. The mailman walked across the front porch after trudging up the nine steps, that is, whenever he couldn’t find one of us kids on the street. It never occurred to me that the mailman would try to avoid climbing steps. Mailmen and mail women climb a lot of steps on the island. It just comes with the job.

But this is about our front porch, mostly. Nobody sat on our porch during the winter months, but not just because the rocking chairs weren’t there, although that’s as good a reason as any. Relatives from afar used the front door, and when I say afar I’m talking about Cumberland County.

I sometimes used the front door, although it wasn’t my normal mode of egress. However, a small mailbox stood atop a post at the corner of Wisteria and Park Boulevard, a short block away. Remember those things? First it was post office green then became red white and blue, and then disappeared forever. I guess it was way too convenient.

The front door was one of the least used doors in the house. The two doors leading from the sunporch to the outside were almost never used during the winter. Our side door on the north side of the house, leading to the porch, also was rarely used during the colder months.

Things changed significantly starting in the spring. The rocking chairs came out of the back apartment, but not by themselves, as I can verify. Sometimes the first step was getting them into the yard to be repainted. It never varied from a medium green color. Next, they were carried out to the sidewalk, down to the corner, then north to the steps. Yes those nine steps! We carried most of them solo, but some of the heavier ones required two people for the job.

Originally we had one glider. No I don’t mean an airplane. For anyone who doesn’t know, a glider is a three person moving seating device, for want of a better explanation. It hangs from a frame, and glides back and forth, which is probably why it’s called a glider. So we had one on the south end of the porch, and it sported nice, wide, armrests. We kids got it going pretty good sometimes!

Eventually that glider made it down to our end of the porch on the north side, when a newer one arrived. Unlike the old one, which ended up being painted black, this one was white with red cushions, and looked rather cheaply made. But it matched the new chaise lounge that showed up at the same time. This glider didn’t look very sturdy, and it really wasn’t. It was assembled from that cheap yard furniture piping, covered with a shiny white coat. We kids liked the old one more.

Our grandmother always made cushions for the rocking chairs, and padded backs for some of them. Some of the rockers| had vertical spindles, so she added loops on the pads. She was always a whiz with a sewing machine! She once made complete suits for Larry and me, except for the shoes of course, but that’s a story for another time.

I forgot to mention one of the most important rites of spring for our front porch, and that was putting up the awnings! I loved the change when the awnings went up. No more nasty sun! I used to help my dad put up the awnings, which meant dragging them from the back apartment to the porch. First the canvas, then the pipes. No sense in going into any more detail, but for a few years I did the whole job myself while my dad was working.

The guests staying in our house loved the front porch! Rocking chairs, awnings, and a nice westerly breeze coming off the bay! They gathered there in the morning, waiting for the rest of their clan to come down from upstairs. Unlike modern times, the guests shared a single bathroom, with the exception of a half bath on the third floor. That’s why not everyone could get ready at the same time, as they do in modern hotels and motels. It’s quite different sharing one bathroom with the family in a motel, rather than sharing one bathroom with all the other guests.

The bedroom where I slept had windows opening to the porch. Venetian blinds blocked sunlight, but allowed sounds to flow freely through the cracks. Often, before getting out of bed, I knew what type of day it was, and I often knew the plans of many of the guests.

Prior to suppertime many of the guests would appear in the rockers, almost like chickens coming home to roost. I remember the mouthwatering aromas emanating from my grandma’s kitchen! Eventually, she would stick her head out the front door and say, “Come and get it!” They would jump up and head for the sunporch, and grab a seat at the long table there.

Everything was served family style, with each food item on a serving dish. The guests would pick their own, often with their own fork. Iced tea always sat in two pitchers, one sweet, one unsweet. Forget about artificial sweeteners!

Getting back to the porch, I sometimes spent quite a bit of time there. I used to “travel” around from the porch, using my father’s binoculars. One of my favorite destinations was the salt marsh across the bay. There used to be two duck hunters’ cabins out there, and I found myself a frequent visitor. It would be years before I actually saw them close up, from my little boat, they appeared to be much bigger than I thought.

I also spent time on the porch during or after a rainstorm. The rockers were always turned around and flipped, and put on the floor up against the house. In my younger days, some of us would crawl around through the chairs, for what reason I still don’t know. But the awnings were always pulled up during a rainstorm. When the storm was passed, I liked undoing the ropes and letting the water rush out of the awnings.

We also played Chinese school on the front steps. That seemed to be a favorite game of my friend Rocco’s sister Margaret. I don’t know what you have to call that game now, but I still like Chinese school. Guess which hand the pebble is in and move up a step. Guess wrong and move down.

Rocco and I used to watch lightning from the front porch at night. Later we figured out it was probably a bad idea. Oh well…

Guests also often gathered at night on the porch to drink beer, eat pizza, which was just coming into vogue, and to tell jokes I didn’t understand, although I figured out some of them years later. Others still remain a mystery.

I could probably write quite a bit more about our porch, but the important thing to note is that I always felt safe there, above the sidewalk, shielded by awnings and the shrubbery. No one can see me there or so I thought, and that was enough.

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