The Front Porch
Driving south on China street the other day and passing the house where we lived when I was seven years old I noticed a man and woman sitting in the shade of their front porch and enjoying a cool southern breeze. If my memory serves me correctly the house looks about the same as it did in 1918; however; great changes have been made in the fenced in back yard which at that time consisted of a barn, a cow lot, chicken pens and a garden. Our play ground was thousands of acres of pasture land behind our house—it was called Wood’s pasture—it extended back to the Brady Creek dam at a place that is now called Richard’s Park and we fished, hunted, and trapped all over this pasture.
Today that old barn has been replaced with a house which sits directly across the street from the Brady High School auditorium, and the cowlot, chicken pens and garden have become the back yards of two adjoining homes. However the front porch of my former home which is the item that first caught my attention remains the same as it did in those days of long ago.
“My goodness” I said to myself, “sitting on the front porch, now that’s something I haven’t seen or even thought about in years, I wonder if I could find anything about the front porch on the Internet”. In it’s heyday the front porch was an important addition to a house but seen through today’s vision it could be counted as a collector’s item or included in stories about the vanishing Americanisms such as wagon yards, domino players, pitching washers or horseshoes or playing croquet.
When I got home I went to the computer and put “The Front Porch” into a search engine and much to my surprise it came up with 2,990,000 hits(*) on this long ago item (and if you don’t believe me, try it yourself). In searching through a portion of the memorabilia furnished by the computer I found several interesting items some of which are included in this article. I also found that I was somewhat late in writing about the front porch so in order to make up for my lateness I decided that I should have called this article “The vanishing front porch.”
In spite of my lateness I started thinking about the importance of the front porch at the house on 12th and College where we lived from 1919 to 1927. Time was when “sitting on the front porch” was a chief feature of pleasure enjoyed by those fortunate enough to have this outstanding addition to their homes. Most often one would find that this porch featured a swing as well as a rocking chair or two and several more straight back chairs for those wanting to get relief from the heat inside the house.
It was on the front porch my granddad snoozed in a hammock or rocked his cares away in an old rocking chair and where in the heat of the night we listened to such radio programs as Fiber McGee and Molly, Henry Aldrich and Jack Benny.
Because of the lack of today’s air conditioning the front porch was quite often used as the summertime parlor especially when company came for Sunday dinner. In those days after the dinner dishes had been washed and put away it was generally accepted that the women folk would move additional chairs to the front porch and all would gather there for an afternoon of fellowship and visitation.
The menfolk would probably have a game of “pitching washers”going, the boys might be playing croquet, out-law and sheriff, kick the can or any one of the numerous games popular in the early 1900’s all of which gradually faded from existence as games more characteristic of modern times became the vogue of the day. The girls not to be left out might be found sitting on the sidewalk playing jacks in the shade provided by the house.
While the front porch has not completely vanished it will be seen mostly on older homes or perhaps on new homes built with seaside exposure. On modern homes it has been replaced with a covered patio at the back or side of the house.
The prime reason for the disappearance of the front porch was twofold, first because of modern day air conditioning which kept people indoors and second because the area occupied by the porch could be included or made a part of the whole house by letting the outer wall of the house encompass the porch area with very little additional cost.
For many decades the front porch represented more than what it was. The front porch has been a gathering place where meals are shared, tall tales told and neighbors welcomed. The front porch was a symbol of brotherhood, where in ages past, families and communities came together.
Rarely does that happen anymore for in cities we find that many people don’t know the names of their neighbors, and they would rather, it seems, sweep off the front porch than sit on it.
(*)When I last check the internet I found that the count of hits on “The front porch” had risen to 7,740,000
After coffee quite some time ago my good friend Slo-Mo called me and asked “Bill, did I detect a degree of animosity in your demeanor this morning and did you by chance take umbrage at something I said to you?”
“For soothe old friend” I responded, “I recently had occasion to look up the meaning of that word and found it meant that one could be offended, angered or insulted and I want you to know that none of them express the feelings I had toward you this morning.
However, had the word meant one could feel “slightly teed off” my answer to your question would have been yes.”
“Well now podner” said Slo-Mo——and I cut him off with “Don’t you Bud Gober me with that podner stuff.”
“Well now wait a minute old Bill, old Bill, what have I said that hath vexed you so?” he asked.
“Slo-Mo, it’s not what you said it is the way you dress” I told him. “Every time your mama (that’s Blossom) lets you out you come to coffee dressed like Little Lord Fauntleroy. You are always color coordinated with a matching cap or hat and with that flat belly of yours and that permanent crease in your slacks you just make some of us look real bad. My wife is always asking “why can’t you look neat and nice like that charming fellow you call Slo-Mo?”
I tell her that you must have help to look so nice, “I think maybe his mama dresses him before he comes to coffee.”
Valentine’s day is upon us—watch next week’s footnote for the Valentine I gave my wife in 1939.