When driving out of the neighborhood in Brandon the other morning, I noticed something about the houses. None of them had front porches large enough to serve any purpose other than keeping a visitor dry during a rain event while waiting on an occupant of the house to answer the door. The porches were certainly not large enough to relax or entertain guests on. That outdoor entertaining duty has been shifted to back porches and patios hidden from view by tall wood fences.
A prominent feature of houses built in the early 20th century was a functional front porch. Houses built in the arts and crafts style and cottage style architecture popular during that time period are prominent in small towns throughout the south, and both styles feature roomy front porches. These porches probably have some combination of a swing, rocking chairs, some sort of a table for placing drinks or playing cards, and a fan to blow away the stifling summer heat along with the squadrons of dive-bombing mosquitoes.
My memories of my great grandparents from my early childhood all seem to involve them sitting on their front porch, Mammy in her swing and Pap in his rocking chair with his collie, ol’ Scott, laying beside him. Their front porch was where most of the visiting took place too. It was the social center when the weather permitted. If folks drove by and saw Mammy and Pap sitting outside, they were likely to stop and say hi and pass along the news from elsewhere in the community.
I’m currently in the midst of a divorce, and I’m preparing to put my house on the market. As I was going through with my painter the other day, showing him places that needed a little freshening up, I glanced out the window from the dining room onto the more usable and comfortable of the two front porches on my house. I thought about the countless hours I spent out there relaxing, talking with family and friends, napping, puffing on cheap cigars, and getting to know my neighbors as they passed by. That porch and the interactions with my neighbors will be one of the things I’ll miss the most about that house and about Vicksburg. I doubt I ever find a place as perfect as that again.
We’ve become a closed off society where our houses are an arm’s length apart, yet we have no idea about who is sleeping 10 yards from us. We might wave at our neighbors as we pull into the garage in the afternoon after work, but when we get out of our cars, we go inside and shut the garage door behind us, sealing ourselves off from the outside world.
Our grandparents had it figured out. We need a front porch revolution. We need to sit out front where we can interact with folks around us; talk about politics, sports, religion, the barking dog down the street, or how to grow tomatoes; learn about our neighbors; and work out our differences over a beer–or a glass of sweet tea if you’re a Baptist.