The Porch

Maida Korte

“There is always one moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in.”Henry Graham Greene

I feel a certain anxious expectation when I approach the front door of any home.  The house can be a quintessential mid-century modern with a bright tangerine door that calls a visitor to enter; or a French Tudor manor house with a blue limestone walk.  Gravel with its pleasant sound of small round stone crunching under my shoes might lead me to an arched top door. Tall urns standing majestic on either side of a raised panel door, painted a brilliant blue, could beckon me forward, or I might make my way over stained and molded concrete leading me towards a vacation house on a lake. I have even crossed wooden planks placed strategically over muddy farm house paths, and in all situations, whether the style is contemporary and crisp or softly gentle in its approach, I want to be wooed into the home by the anticipation of what awaits on the other side of the door. 

The front door to our home struck me as a dull red surprise under the canopy of the large porch the first time I approached.  Gun-metal grey clapboard siding could be seen under the shadow of shade the porch ceiling created.  The painted front door was a flat and ruddy red with white trim casings that formed a simple crown capital above.  As I walked toward the front door, feeling some measure of anxiety at the thought of moving to the country, I felt comforted by the run-down appearance of the wood siding and peeling paint.  The house looked a little bit tired, and a kindred connection began between the house and me.  I was tired too.

 A crumbly and cracked walk, which seemed moss covered and quaint at first glance, led to wide wood steps. Greying paint on the treads, blotched and worn in the middle, suggested the decades of wear these stairs had endured.  These steps led up to the large porch that wrapped around the front and side of the house where old white wood columns interrupted the length every eight feet. The square columns supported the ceiling of the porch where peeling paint layers looked like little dirty white potato chips gently flickering back and forth. A sprinkling of these paint chips had fallen to the floor and they crunched when I walked on them.  I could sense, even at first glance, that this porch would take me further away from the city than any distance measured. 

The front porch wave is subtle.  Done one way and a perfect stranger will approach and sit down for a neighborly chat but the same wave done with a particular tilt of the head, and the same stranger keeps going and everyone understands with no offense taken.  Our porch has taught me things I didn’t know I was curious about.  I sit gape-jawed many evenings surprising myself by my rapt attention to a discussion about cloud formations with people I barely know.  I am learning about out-croppings and why they are very useful in creating barricades to prevent soil erosion, and that the Biblical directive of resting soil in the seventh year is followed with good reason.  The neighborliness frightened me at first, but slowly, I am shedding my mask of self-imposed solitary confinement.  Living in the city taught me to smile from afar and project a friendliness that could remain untested.  Learning to be friendly up close, combined with the comfort of inviting chairs and cushions, has taught me that our porch is a version of a country social.  These days I am finding that I keep sweet tea in the fridge, hoping for a neighborly visit out front.

To me, porches also mean swings and swings mean slowing life down for just a moment.  When my girls were little, I used to stop at every playground we walked past and push them on swings with slung saddle strap seats.  I would take a moment to jump on and go back to being a little girl singing show-tunes bombastically while thrusting feet toward the sky.  So swaying gently as if an invisible guest was rocking back and forth, our wooden porch swing calls anyone to come and sit. On it are comfortable pillows covered in soft, thick bark cloth. This fabric has a texture of memory all its own, since it holds fast the original heritage of sodden tree bark, slapped and scraped roughly smooth in far-away lands.  These faded prints are perfect for my porch where relaxing is the only activity required.

There is a wonderful old barn several miles deeper into the country where I drive past herds of cows that pile on top of one another when it is particularly cold outside.  I love seeing this and imagine they are one huge family and that they love each other very much.  Their simple, blank and soulful faces hold memories for me of simple days long ago when standing on a fence would have kept me occupied for hours.  This particular old barn, where I forage for interesting objects to put on my porch, has been turned into a little store.  The barn owners decided a long time ago that it would be a good idea to go through the countryside looking for abandoned objects on the side of the road to sell in their dirty barn for outrageous sums of money.  It is my favorite place to shop.  I die over dilapidated chairs and drool when I see light fixtures that don’t work at all.  Andy won’t go with me any more ever since I made him carry a 300 pound broken mirror to a cabinet maker to fix the frame that was cracked, and then to the decorative artist to repair the gold leaf, and then to the antique glass blower to have the back of the mirror re-silvered.  He says that my delight is directly related to his arm strength and that his back hurts just thinking about it.  I always find something for the porch every time I visit.  This time I find an old watering can which I bring home, cut hydrangeas from the yard, place them inside the can and carry it to the front porch where it will sit comfortably.

When our grown children come home to visit, they disappear from time to time, escaping to the front porch where conversations are gentler and quieter.  Inside, at tables in the family room and dining room, louder conversations take place with constant interruptions and a stream of activity; up, down, in and out, little grand-children under foot and the dog racing with a stuffed animal in his mouth begging someone to play with him. The porch will have none of this. Daughters sit on our swing and nestle their feet into their husband’s laps, where they close their eyes with only the occasional murmur about the direction the breeze is blowing. The bark-cloth pillows are scrunched and crumpled and the city seems far away.

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