Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Summer Porches

I love porches in the summer.

Bringing a library book onto the front porch of the house where I grew up was quintessential summer pleasure. As a child, I did not expect a summer full of fun; I knew fun usually meant what other people enjoyed and made time for and accommodated in family schedules. I had my own ideas of the best ways to move through slow morning hours and stave off the lethargy of a Louisiana afternoon and await the arrival of evening.

On the porch in summer, I paged through the latest books that I had borrowed from the local library. The air through the screens that enclosed the porch was thick with outdoor smells: the sharp fragrance of moist, shaded soil; the dry, green smell of arbor vitae and lugustrum and crepe myrtle. Meanwhile, I inhaled another aroma when I put my nose up to the leathery pages of a borrowed book, a smell as foreign and strangely welcoming as anything arising from the flower beds along the sides of our New Orleans home.

I did not know what adults did with summer -- at least what the adults in my house did that was any different from the other months of the year. My father still put on a starched white shirt each day to go downtown to work; my mother still ironed her shirtwaist dress before Sunday morning Mass. It was long years before my parents could manage anything that might count as vacation in the way that that phenomenon was depicted in the books I selected to read from the library stacks.

Yes, strange to say, my consolation was to read about summer.

My favorite summer pasttime became a way of visiting those long, quiet summer hours in other families' lives. To Kill a Mockingbird was only one of the books that got me onto the porches that belonged to those other people. In getting there, however, I caught glimpses of how my life might have been if I had been born into another home.

Maybe a father would have fallen asleep in a rocking chair and let me wake him before dinner.

Maybe a grandmother would have climbed down the backdoor steps and herded visiting cousins around her.

Maybe aunts and uncles would have arranged themselves on a wide gallery and smiled into a camera.

Vintage photographs that I have purchased over the past several years do often, it turns out, manage to convey a feel of summer quiet. The moment captured within the white borders of each picture feels something worth keeping in focus, worth remembering, worth honoring. They each tell the kind of story we might tell when we are not concerned about our lives sounding more interesting than they are.

That kind of story seems important.


Ellie said...

Thank you for this.

John said...

And thank you for that.

Ur-spo said...

Once upon time I read a paper on the culture and social aspects of porches. I recall it sounded lovely; people sitting and watching the world go by or even drop by.

Vic Mansfield said...

My father and stepmother live in an old neighborhood with a real mix of residents. They often sit on their side porch. Folk come over all the time for conversation, visiting, some wine.

Porches bring us out of our enclosured lives. I love it.

Great picture too. Woof! (if I may be so bold to say)

John said...

The shrubs around the porches and even the screens afforded something like privacy in the neighborhood where I grew up. I could be outdoors and indoors at once, and that gave a distinctive flavor to reading on the porch.