I love front porches. But they seem to have been replaced by redwood decks with hot tubs; patios with fancy furniture, gigantic grills. And fully-equipped outdoor kitchens.
Don't get me wrong; I enjoy the amenities we have today. But I miss things of yesteryear.
Like my grandmother's porch.
Maw Maw Wilson's porch ran all the way across the front of her house. Two swings hung at each end; one was Maw Maw's, the other Uncle Bob's. Maw Maw never sat in Uncle Bob's, and Uncle Bob never sat in Maw Maw's. (Although Charlie Reeves, their farmhand, occasionally sat in Uncle Bob's.)
When no one else was around, Pitty and I sometimes sneaked out and jumped into Uncle Bob's, swinging as high as it would go, giggling all the while. (Don't know why we thought we had to be secretive about it. Maybe we thought we were sitting in a "man's" swing, or something like that!)
On both sides of the porch sat several ancient rockers with sagging seats. When I sat down, I had to brace myself with my elbows. The woven bottoms sagged lower each year, and it became a game to me: Would this be the day I crashed to the floor?
I never did.
When I was a tot, I spent a lot of time on the porch with Paw Paw Wilson, often crawling onto his lap, grabbing the brim of his hat with both hands and pulling it down as far as it would go. After admiring his eyebrow-less face for a few minutes, I pulled it from his head, laid it on my lap, and pounded it with my fist until it was squashed as flat as a pancake. Then I punched it back into shape and sat it on his white head.
I did this over and over, never tiring of my game. Apparently, neither did Paw Paw. He never complained.
I was too short to reach the screen-door handle, so Paw Paw decided I needed one of my own. He had Maw Maw find him a bald thread-spool, and I stood watching as he hammered it on the door. It was just my height. He gets up, hammer in hand, and smiles. "Now you can open the door yourself, Gaily!"
Paw Paw died when I was three. And from there on in, I thought of him each time I approached the steps to the porch. Almost thirty years later, when Maw Maw died, the spool was still there.
Maw Maw and Uncle Bob usually discussed the crops, when they were sitting in their respective swings. Or the weather. But when we were alone with Maw Maw, she often told us about happenings of long ago: traveling with her family, when she was five, in a covered wagon all the way to Texas and back; her trip to the World's Fair in New York City in 1939; stories about her midwifery, trips in her Model-T to Tennessee to visit her father, whose stepsons made moonshine (of which she strongly disapproved). And the sad story of Doyce, her 26-year-old son and my uncle, who was killed on the railroad tracks near Laketon before I was born.
I loved big family dinners at Maw Maw's house. Especially during the summer, because all of the adults usually ended up on the front porch. I was supposed to be playing in the yard with my siblings, but I always lurked here and there, listening to the adults. A thrill coursed through my body as I hid among the rosebushes. Particularly when Uncle Leo visited from New York City. He talked fast, unlike the soft, thick drawl of the voices I had heard all my life. He was familiar, yet alien, like the handsome, quick-talking actors at Milwain's: "I bought some more land on Manhattan Island," he says, "There's a lot of money to be made there!"
Pitty and I often spent hours in the swing, looking at Maw Maw's photo album of Uncle Leo's 1935 wedding. Aunt Victoria wore a fitted satin gown and a long veil and train circling her dress and ending in a swirling cream-colored puddle around her feet. Her bouquet of white lilies was the largest I had ever seen. Uncle Leo wore tails and a top hat. "When I get married," I say, "I'm going to have a big wedding just like theirs." "Me, too," says Pitty Pat.
After church and sunday school, we often had dinner with Maw Maw. And after the dishes were done, she generally took a nap on her big Victorian lounge. It faced the porch window, so Pitty and I sat in the swing, staring through the window at her sleeping face, wishing she would wake up. (Once we even prayed she would wake up, because she had promised us a trip to the pond.)
We had to walk through her peach and apple orchards and all the way across another field through horse weeds and cow dung to get to the pond. We loved to swim and fish there, and one time Uncle Bob caught a fifty-pound catfish.
But that's another story.