I’ve always been a porch sitter.
Some of my earliest memories are of my parents sitting out on the tiny “front stoop” of our tidy little war house in Tonawanda, New York. Perched there on webbed aluminum lawn chairs, with sunset approaching on summer nights, while I rode my black and white rocket tricycle up and down the sidewalk. Them laughing, chatting and reminding me “not to go past the Roberts’ house”, and me trying to show off my speed. Of waking up on summer mornings and taking my dollies out there to play as the sun warmed that little square of concrete. Waving from there at Mr. Steinhauser, the elderly man across the street who was like my second Grampa, watering his lawn. Waiting for one of those epic Buffalo snowfalls so that I could run my sled down the incline that was once the steps. I felt so much happy on that little porch. It was my first vista on the world outside.
My childhood favourite though was my Nana Sylvie’s big, wide tree-canopied porch on Riverside Avenue in the Riverside section of downtown Buffalo. I spent as much of my summers with my Nana as my parents would allow before they said I had to come home to see them. She had given up her cool little crooked house on Fuller Street (which had a porch with built in seats!), and moved to the upstairs flat in one of the big old rambling Art Deco houses that the city is famous for. From that giant second storey tar-paper porch, my little brother and I had a bird’s eye view of the whole street, filled with the songs of finches, sparrows and robins. If we went to the very front railing, we could see the mighty Niagara River at the end of the street. We could smell that wonderful waterfront smell as soon as we stepped outside (as well as getting bombarded by the shad-flies, the scourge of the Great Lakes, if we stayed out too long past dark). I could grab one of my Mom’s old books like Rebecca Of Sunnybrook Farm or The Bobbsey Twins on a long afternoon and spend hours lost in the romance of the language of any earlier time. (I am sure this nurtured my later obsession with period TV series of the late 19th and early 20th century). I could wave my arms to my friend Angel’s house with the same porch right across the street, and we would talk to each other porch-to-porch. She was that one friend everyone has when you’re a kid; you know…the one that your parents say you shouldn’t hang out with; but she was Spanish, exotic, had really cool big brothers and was oh so much more interesting than all the suburban kids at home. We would save up our allowances, walk over to buy the latest 45s from Kobackers Department store where my Nana worked, then back home for lunch and to drag the record player out onto that porch where we could dance and dream our summers away under the big maples.
When I was 10, we moved further out into the Buffalo countryside, to the village of East Amherst. East Amherst is now a massive suburb with plazas and endless labyrinth in subdivisions, but back then, it was still a sleepy rural village surrounded by ponds, trees and farm fields. My parents were incredibly proud of the brand-new house they built at the end of Poplar Hill Lane. My brother and I were blessed to spend the rest of our childhood there in that tiny enclave of two streets and a couple dozen homes. A safe oasis through the turbulent 60s and 70s while the wider world around us seemed to be imploding. Where giant neighbourhood-wide games of Manhunt happened every Saturday night and sleepovers meant endlessly “walking around the block” in a gaggle of girls, aka trolling for pre-teen boys doing the same. But, only ‘til 11pm, when Irv Weinstein came on at the start of Eyewitness News and asked “It’s eleven o’clock, do you know where your children are?” Then we had to return to the safety of the porch, that was the rule. That house had a long, wide, pillared concrete front porch. I spent many a long summer day on the porch swing my dad installed there; painting my nails, writing in diaries, contemplating my destiny and listening to the radio. Every year, mallard ducks from the old farm pond at the end of the road would nest under the shrubs that bordered that porch, and my dad would curse the “damn duck shit” on his pristine driveway (Dad was concrete-proud and an obsessive driveway-hoser-offer). But, we fed them, watched over them and silently agreed to share our space with them. One year, a baby got left behind. “Quack” was quickly adopted by my little brother’s best friend Marty. That duck lived with The Drango family for quite some time, before sadly getting lost at their grandparents’ home in Pennsylvania. There was nothing like watching the Drangos pack up their five kids for the annual trek back to PA, with that duck perched in the back window of the car. That porch that gave all us kids the gift that was Quack, and it was where I learned to love watching nature unfold in general as the cure to all ills.
The first porch that was fully mine was in the first house I bought with my then-new husband in central Oshawa. It was a rather peculiar thing. Ironically, a smaller version of the porch on the front of my parents’ home, but not concrete; rather a wood bordered affair topped off with those wavy first-generation “interlocking” bricks. Which, by the time we bought that house, had heaved badly. I remember spending our first summer there carefully lifting, leveling and re-laying all those bricks, adding beautiful steps and a mailbox on a post to match, with our name on it, and feeling the pride of home ownership for the first time.
Years passed, and with them another move to another porch, this one In Bowmanville and back to the woods and trees. My dream house, the one I had seen in my head since my teens. For many years, we only had two small wooden stoops on that house, but at the back, we built a screened in porch overlooking the woods that quickly became the centrum of three-season life for our family. I remember laying layered in blankets with newborns there in early spring. Entertaining friends through many a long summer evening, accompanied by cricket and frog song. Reading with my ex-husband and forgetting technology on summer Saturday nights in autumn. As my daughters grew, my oldest began to sit out there to write music. Later, it would be her plus a band out there, working out jams and having beers. We built an Inukshuk outside that porch in the woods, jokingly saying that it was so all the family and local caribou could always find their way back there. Ironically, that musical daughter grew up to buy a home with her own screen porch now, and the tradition lives on.
Eventually a big covered front porch got added to that house too, as part of a major reno. The pillars of that one were made of cedars I peeled myself, from our property. The big kitchen window was where we could pass out plates and drinks for “porch breaky” with the Saturday paper. From that window over the sink, I also got to watch baby doves and robins in their nests in the hanging baskets we put up every year on that porch. We installed a rock fountain near it in the yard for the beauty of water trickling to make the porch an even more inviting place (later, my oldest daughter’s dog took to laying in that stone fountain like it was her personal swimming pool, and it still makes me laugh thinking of Crazy Annie doing that). My ex-husband discovered his inner “bird man” via that porch, and put up feeders for the hummingbirds. Often we would be sitting there silently only to hear that quiet sound of the frantic beating of their wings signaling their approach. They truly are miracles. Once again, porches had provided a place to be with nature, each other, and peace, to me and to my family.
That home and its sweet porches now enrich the life of a new family, with mine all moving on to our next chapters, and I’ve found myself on another porch of my own in sweet Orono.
Last night I sat on that porch with a book, a Spicy Caesar and the dogs, and thought about all the porches of my life thus far. We watched the world go by for a while on Main Street, saying hello to those passing on the sidewalk, listening to the birds in the Crown Lands and watching the sun sink low behind the crooked water tower and the old bank building across the street. Listening as the Town Hall clock tower chimed each hour, reminding me how much I love this little town and all its funny quirky uniqueness. I have sat on that porch on a sunny day in March, covered in a blanket with a hot coffee in hand, so anxious for spring that I was determined to act like it was here that I was willing to fake it. I have sat out thunderstorms under her roof, feeling the power and awe of weather. I have stood on the other side of my front door and looked out through her as she was blanketed in the first snowstorms of winter. I have adorned her railings with flowering vines, wreaths, Halloween webs, Easter eggs, Christmas lights and wind chimes. Leaning against her in my garden is the rusty antique bike that became a planter (dubbed the Cosmic Comet), that was a birthday gift from a dear friend my first year in Orono. I have bundled up my granddaughter and myself, our candy canes in hand, to watch the Orono Santa Claus parade go right by us there (anyone who knows me, knows that this is like a dream come true, to have a Christmas Parade go right by my house… my secret life ambition since childhood has been to be a Santa Claus Parade commentator on TV). This porch has enveloped me through both fearful sleepless nights under the moon wondering what will come next; as well as satisfied happy and contented afternoons overlooking my little corner of town, and evenings chatting over wine with friends. It has been where little surprise gifts have turned up on days when I needed them the most. I have painted and re-painted the creaky screen door as my mood and tastes have changed. This porch has held steadfast in its’ stone pillars as I have evolved around it, while growing into this new life on my own.
I am blessed to be a two-porch woman these days, with my second being at my little piece of heaven in Cherry Valley, Prince Edward County, overlooking East Lake. It’s truly my “fun porch”. A place where quiet coffee mornings in my hanging chair lead to group crafting afternoons and reno projects getting done, followed by chatty, busy cocktail hours, and long, delicious BBQ dinners while candles burn down and wine bottles get emptied. Where lately I have let my voice out again and begun jamming with neighbours, preparing for our little Cherry Beach Porch Concerts. Where my little mini fire bowl warms a rainy afternoon of books and radio dramas. Where the old store door bell shakes and dings as a friend steps up while out on their cottage walk. Where the chihuahuas have become expert at following the warm spots through the day so they can lay in the sun while still being on guard for the ‘hood. Where the ever-changing wonder that is a lake unfolds on each new day with something always new and different to see.
Soon, I will move yet again from sweet Orono, and have two more brand new home base porch-balconies to add life to; these across the street from Lake Ontario. Another new adventure, in a more dense living setting, but still close to the nature that grounds me. And I look forward to the memories and long moments of time seeming to stand still that I’m certain these porches will also bring to my life. To the new people I may share them with. To learning the rhythms of another lake’s nuances, and the new birds that may visit me there. To life unfolding another chapter to me once again, from the safety and vista of a porch.
Life, it seems, always has a porch to offer us. It is up to us to decide if it’s just a place to pass through coming and going and a place for Amazon to drop the boxes; or instead, a little world of its own, in the space between the private inside life and the greater world outside. A place where we can sit with the world and let the magic come to us, and yet somehow still feel safe and “home”. I know what my choice is. So if you’ll excuse me, I’m just gonna head on out to the porch with a beer for a bit, crank up some tunes, and see what today brings.
I’m a 64 year old aging hippie with a sarcastic tongue and out of control ginger hair. I am passionate in advocating for women “of a certain age”, especially we single ones, because we aren’t quite dead yet, in spite of the fact that we are often largely invisible and made to feel redundant on many levels. I hope to make you think, make you laugh, and mostly, feel like no matter where you are in life, you are never alone, and whatever dumb thing you think is going to sink you, won’t. Because heaven knows if that were true, I wouldn’t be here.