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In Praise of The Old Front Porch

Updated on February 13, 2017
kenneth avery profile image

Kenneth has been a member of HubPages for five years. He is retired from a 23-year career in the weekly newspaper business.

This man knows what a front porch is used for: relaxing.
This man knows what a front porch is used for: relaxing. | Source

If you were born and grew up on a farm in the southland in the 1940s, 50s, and the early part of the 1960s, you had a porch on the front of your house. And I call you "blessed." If you had a front and back porch, I would say that you were "really blessed."

For many years our front porch history in the south has went unnoticed and almost obscure and that to me, is a sin of neglect on my part and all who occupy homes around me. To the untrained eye, the porch is just a series of well-placed lumber with a few steps (of wood), a few chairs and oh yes, the finishing touch: the porch swing. A true southern home without a porch swing was just some lumber, mortar, nails, and roofing. That's it.

The carpenter and home designer who married the porch swing with the front porch really deserves some type of gold and silver medal to recognize their efforts — that to them at that time was just one of those ideas that happened. Now, I have to stop right here and disagree with myself. No idea, big, small, silly or useful "just" happens. They are borne to those special-minded individuals who know how to execute them on a society made up mostly of onlookers.

Source

Clara Meekins

She was one year old in 1952 in front of the house on South Street, Raleigh, North Carolina, where she was born. People visible sitting on the porch of the house are all family.

What Was So Special About Front Porches?

Where would huge farm families of that era meet after dinner (lunch to city dwellers) and supper (dinner to city dwellers) to let their meal settle while sharing details of the day? Out in the yard, you say? Good guess, but dead wrong. The family would probably get chairs from inside their home and find the coolest place near the edge of the yard. I can tell you from experience that no family farming or retired, ever made sitting on their front porch in the dead of winter a popular social move.

So now you see what front porches were so vital to the lives of the people who sat on them. Many tough, painful secrets of youth were shared on those structures made from planks, bent nails, and splintered ends. And the recipients of those secrets and the ones who shared them did some growing in the process.

And many was the time that my family would just sit, rest, and think. Since we did not have a television, window fan or air conditioning, we would just sit on our front porch in the cool of the evening and use the ears that God gave us to enjoy the millions of sounds from "Nature's Multi-Piece Orchestra." Did you not have radio, you ask? Sure. But like I just said it was too hot to be inside our home. Aren't you listening?

I could go further, but I choose to end my introduction with a list of things we did on our front porches and I sincerely hope that you enjoy them.

Great granny and grandson enjoying those special moments on a front porch somewhere in Tennessee.
Great granny and grandson enjoying those special moments on a front porch somewhere in Tennessee. | Source
  • Courting that special girl or boy: yes, sitting in the porch swing on the front porch at any given cool summer evening with the unmistakable aroma of honeysuckles wafting through the air was, I know, the perfect place to tell the one who had stolen your heart just how you felt. If you had little siblings, the mother would make sure to give them a lot of chores to do away from the front porch to give you that needed privacy that only she understood.
  • Counting fireflies: I do know of this activity was popular with our neighbors when I was growing up, but we loved it. But one thing. We called fireflies "lightning bugs." The object of this game was simple. Each person would see how many "lightning bugs" they could count in an evening's time. You had to be quick. With each flash of the "lightning bug" several voices would yell, "mine!" I miss this family activity.
  • Catching fireflies: or "lightning bugs" was more of a universal activity across the country than just in the south land. Each person got a quart size Mason jar and went about the chasing of and capturing as many "lightning bugs" as possible before bedtime. And no "lightning bug" was ever hurt or killed. That was understood or a whipping would be issued to the transgressor.
  • Killing houseflies: I don't mean to be harsh, but in the early evening in summertime, especially after a good summer shower, houseflies somehow just showed up for their time to annoy us. I think that they had hid out and waited for their chance. But if you had a store-bought fly swatter, you were uptown. This device went to good use in ridding our home (and porch) of these pesky insects. Yes, we made a sport of it and if you had more than one fly swatter it was more fun. But we could only afford one fly swatter, but that didn't stop our fun. We would share and then count the flies that we exterminated.
  • Family singing: was the exciting substitute for enjoyment if you were without a television or radio. Families would choose the memorable songs of the day and just sing them as best they could. Some families did really well with this activity. Do you recall The Carter Family of early Country Music?
  • Our meals: were sometimes served on the front porch due to the house being so hot from the wood stove. This was fun all except for I did not want my dogs, "Frank" and "Button" to have to beg for hand-outs. Yes, mother, I did sneak my canine pals several treats and that might explain my lanky frame in my younger years.
  • Talking: yes, talking. Not chatting or texting on today's electronic gadgets. We used our mouths, tongues and ears to share details bad, good, and mysterious of the previous 24-hours. This was the "cement" that kept families bonded together. It is such a shame that families do not use their front porches for talking as they did when I was young.
  • Sling-shot practice: was common for people like us who loved a good competition, but do not get on the edge of your seat. We did not shoot at cats, dogs, cows or deer. But when you live in the deep woods of the south, you see the occasional rat snake slowly crawling across your yard. True. But the rat snake would soon learn that we were decent shots with this homemade apparatus and he was soon finding an escape route. No, I cannot think of any reptile that any of us killed.
  • Watermelon seed spitting: was more of a contest than it was manners while eating cold, fresh watermelon in those cool summer evenings. I do not think that I have to explain how this game was played. I do recall that I did not win a single contest, but I did come close once.
  • Wasp and yellow jacket killing: was made possible by the used rines of the watermelon that we just enjoyed. Wasps and yellow jackets just love that sugary juice found in watermelon rines and when an excited wasp or yellow jacket would land in hopes of securing a meal of sweet nectar, we would open fire with our sling-shots. But one thing was to be kept in mind: Sometimes an angry wasp will seek vengeance upon the assassin who deprived him of that good nectar and he would retaliate with a good stinging of his own to our arms, legs or anywhere he could land.
  • Knitting and cross-stitching: were sometimes performed on our front porch. My mom was always the efficiency expert. She was one to never put off things that she could do today. She was a true multi-tasker in that she could carry on a conversation with two or more people without missing a stitch.
  • Evening naps: were always on tap for my dad who had put in a good day's work in the cotton fields that we share cropped. He made no apology for his napping while we were shooting at snakes, wasps, and spitting watermelon seeds. As I grew older I would study my dad during a nap and think, "so this is what a man at peace looks like."

I still miss our front porch. I make no bones about that. Where I live now I do not have a front porch, but I do have an open carport.

Naaaah, it's just not the same.

Good night, Verona, Mississippi.

Journey Down Memory Lane

I thought that those of you who grew up in whatever section of our country and were blessed to have a porch might like to take a few moments to look at the photos below of porches and porch swings. You may take this journey down those memories that you still retain and pay no fee to me or anyone else. I will urge you to do one thing as you take this journey to view porches and porch swings: Enjoy.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
 Four Children on a porch  in the United States circa 1910. Photo Archive on Getty Images.Huge families would meet in the cool of summer evenings to just be together, share stories of the day and just love one another.Porch swing sits silent awaiting the homeowner and family to just come out on the porch and visit.Living that front porch life.
 Four Children on a porch  in the United States circa 1910. Photo Archive on Getty Images.
Four Children on a porch in the United States circa 1910. Photo Archive on Getty Images. | Source
Huge families would meet in the cool of summer evenings to just be together, share stories of the day and just love one another.
Huge families would meet in the cool of summer evenings to just be together, share stories of the day and just love one another. | Source
Porch swing sits silent awaiting the homeowner and family to just come out on the porch and visit.
Porch swing sits silent awaiting the homeowner and family to just come out on the porch and visit. | Source
Living that front porch life.
Living that front porch life. | Source

© 2017 Kenneth Avery

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    • kenneth avery profile image
      Author

      Kenneth Avery 4 months ago from Hamilton, Alabama

      Hello, RTalloni ,

      Thank you so very much for your nice comment.

      I noticed the word, "priceless," found in your comment that

      impressed me. And the people, faces, memories, and lives

      lived in the front porch were, and I agree with you, priceless.

      Write me anytime.

    • kenneth avery profile image
      Author

      Kenneth Avery 4 months ago from Hamilton, Alabama

      Hello, John,

      You are very welcome for the interesting comment,

      but . . .I am the one who is blessed by being your

      friend who just happens to be a very talented man.

      Oh, the front porches. What a perfect time to be

      in life.

    • kenneth avery profile image
      Author

      Kenneth Avery 4 months ago from Hamilton, Alabama

      Dearest Sakina :)

      Oh, you should seek yourself a place where you live and

      look for a place that has a front porch. They are simply

      delightful, amazing, and oh so peaceful.

      Thank you for being such a good friend and writer.

      Write me anytime.

    • kenneth avery profile image
      Author

      Kenneth Avery 4 months ago from Hamilton, Alabama

      Hi, Laura,

      You are, and pardon my verbiage, a front porch freak,

      my friend. I am one also too.

      Just give me a cup (or two) of fresh coffee in my favorite

      cup, a spot on my front porch and there it is: Free movies,

      television and life itself all without a charge.

      Amazing.

    • kenneth avery profile image
      Author

      Kenneth Avery 4 months ago from Hamilton, Alabama

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez ,

      It has been such a long time since you and I talked.

      Thank you for talking about your memories of the

      front porch.

      I seriously believe that a group of concerned citizens

      should form a group to get a series of front porches

      and tell the Smithsonian to have their own exhibit

      that tells so much about your heritage.

      What do you think?

    • kenneth avery profile image
      Author

      Kenneth Avery 4 months ago from Hamilton, Alabama

      Hi, Road Monkey,

      Ain't (porches) the best?!

      I have to agree with your (love) of the front porch.

      Nothing like them.

      Thanks for being my wonderful follower/friend.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 6 months ago from Queensland Australia

      Ken, I also found this through your Q and A about best and worst hubs. Although you have many wonderful hubs, I would have to agree.. This is one of your very best. Great job.

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 6 months ago from the short journey

      Found this thanks to your Q on our favorite and least favorite hubs. What a front porch brought to families and neighbors was priceless, but it wasn't the structure itself, it was the people and the conversations amidst the activities that made the experiences worth remembering. The photos you included are great…I don't know if there's ever been a better one than the first of your last group with those four children sitting together so obediently but with their personalities shining through their faces… :)

    • SakinaNasir53 profile image

      Sakina Nasir 6 months ago from Kuwait

      This is just lovely. I love the way you have described your whole experience about front porches. In India, we have porches too, but they are much shorter and more like steps for sitting. People used to sit outside near their door and talk with each other during evenings. I didn't get to see much of this, but my parents did enjoy the experience.

      Great hub buddy! :) Keep it up.

    • Laura335 profile image

      Laura Smith 6 months ago from Pittsburgh, PA

      Great topic! I grew up (and still live) in the suburbs of the Mid-Atlantic, but I didn't have a front porch (and still don't). I spent a lot of time on my parents' back porch in the summer, and I used to go visit other peoples' front porches in the neighborhood. It's the ideal eavesdropping spot and best place to watch the day pass around you. I've always admired old farmhouses with the large, wrap around porches, and they always turn up in my novels.

    • grand old lady profile image

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 6 months ago from Philippines

      As a child I grew up in Los Angeles and we had a lovely front porch. It is so nice to hear about your own memories and the things you did on the front porch. This is a very heartwarming article:)

    • RoadMonkey profile image

      RoadMonkey 6 months ago

      I would have loved a front porch. As you say, good gathering place for family talks.