No matter where I go — to grandmother’s house, a barbecue joint, the DMV to renew my license — I long for a front porch to park my rear.
It’s my comfort zone, my sanctuary, the place where I can unwind and reflect, ever-so-deeply, on life matters, big and small.
A good cup of coffee or cocoa facilitates the process, as does having a good rocking chair and a good companion who’s prone to sharing their own musings.
Or chewing on some gossip. Good ol’ rich, tantalizing, fatty gossip.
If ever there was a patent on front porches, surely it included a section or footnote about its being a chief instrument for sparking verbal — and, by extension, physical — warfare. Truly, there is no deadlier weapon, as a front porch grants front-row access to virtually all Southern theatrics, especially in small towns.
A porch dweller may, indeed, live many miles away from a given bout of drama. But, rest assured, those sitting on a much closer porch will always catch sight or wind of the spectacle. And soon, very soon, every porch may as well have been “the” very one where everything — raging arguments, juicy affairs, fist-fighting duels — went down.
Guilty until proven innocent? Bless your heart, friend. This and similar assumptions aren’t welcome on the front porch. And if they somehow happen to sneak by and take a seat, they’re shoo’ed away via side-eye scowls and subtle, though highly condemning, remarks:
“But, y’know, that boy/girl ain’t never done right.”
Nope, not even the time they delivered to you that crucial stick of butter, or loaned you those couple of dollars. Nor the time they stopped to help you change that flat tire, or gave you a lift. None of those times matter, as long as there’s some delicious gossip to chew on the front porch.
Of course, it’s not all negative. Some things are sweeter than any traditional glass of Southern iced tea.
There are declarations of true love. Weddings and birth announcements. The send-off of a soldier, and a warm “Welcome Home.” Family gatherings. The sharing of recipes, fishing and hunting stories, and remedies from old wives’ tales.
There are gatherings of pea shellers. The soothing sight, smell and sounds of rainy days. Comforting views of blooming spring flowers, fall leaves and seasonal yard decorations. The hypnotic tinkling of wind chimes.
It’s all there, all on the front porch, where many life lessons are taught as well.
It was on a front porch that Pawpaw Jim showed me how to relay my worries over to the Good Lord in prayer. It was also on a front porch where Pawpaw assured me that God already knew who was going to be my wife. Long before I knew myself, he added.
At the time, my mid-teenage mind was certain it already knew this answer. But it was wrong. That means God and Pawpaw Jim, I reckon, were right.
Then there are lessons that are learned the hard way. Like the lesson one of my kin folks was given when he thought he’d gotten big and bad enough to not only take on his daddy, but win the fight.
His wiry old man, however, debunked this belief, knocking his ornery son out the front door and onto the front porch.
Stupefied, the son got up and charged back inside the house, refusing to accept what had just happened. But his daddy gave him an instant refresher course, and the poor, stubborn son found himself knocked back on the front porch again.
That time, the lesson sunk in pretty good.
Other lessons simply come at random, devoid of any — or very little — foreshadowing. One I gained happened when I was about 4 years old. I was out playing with an orange cat on the front porch of Uncle Leon and Aunt Emma Sue Sutton’s house.
Rather, I was trying to play with the orange cat. It refused to come out from under a chair.
After trying unsuccessfully to lure the cat out, I finally got down on my knees and lunged for it. In return, the hissing cat swiped my forehead, and I went inside to show Uncle Leon.
“Which cat did that to you?” he asked, examining my wound.
“The orange one on the front porch.”
Uncle Leon nodded. Then, in the most deeply sincere voice I’d ever heard from a grown-up, he asked, “Want me to spank him?”
I remember thinking he was only kidding. Grown-ups said things like that all the time.
Grinning, I nodded. And that’s when Uncle Leon got up, went outside on the front porch, grabbed hold of the cat. He kept his word.
That day, I learned that some old men don’t play. They really do mean what they say. The proof was indisputable, right there on the front porch.
Keith Huffman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.