Porches

  • I’d spent time on ancestral porches, my own balconies, on verandas abroad in my lifetime. On this particular afternoon, I would come to understand why porches speak to my soul.
7 min read

There’s something about a porch that speaks to my soul, love one that’s furnished like the outdoor, out front room that, in my eyes, it’s meant to be. I passed a little bungalow home with a wrap around porch one afternoon; it invited me to come up the steps, sit down, rest a moment…

As a colored girl of three, my maternal grandparents’ house in NE Washington, D.C., looked enormous. Each time we visited, I would jump out of the car once parked, run down the street, fly up what seemed like a huge set of chiseled concrete steps, skip across a path leading to three big wooden stairs, and climb up to a long open veranda stretching the width of their home. There was a white-framed sofa glider with cushions patterned in muted florals from the ’50s. Several light green metal chairs with rounded backs were placed near white tables, all facing the latticed privacy wall overlooking fat blue and pink hydrangea blossoms and the front lawn.

Iced tea or cola was sipped over summer conversations that I didn’t understand, as an adult slowly rocked the glider; my legs barely reached the edge of the cushions as I sat waiting for the first sight of lightning bugs to float amongst the warm evening air fragranced with the smell of roses. Porch time with my grandparents was sacred, heavenly moments where neighbors communed with each other about current events and their grandchildren as I communed with nature. Something about being there on that porch with them felt safe, comforting.

On that veranda was a world separate and apart from whatever was happening beyond the sidewalk that led down to the street. My sister and I played, ate lunch, had nap times there. The only thing that was required of us was to just be children as the adults watched us grow. We ventured off the porch into the yard to run wildly amongst the grounds, swing on the swing set, or tend to the flower beds we each were given, not a care in the world. My love of daffodils began the day my tiny fingers wrapped themselves around the beige wooden handle of a trowel to dig a hole for a bulb that was almost the size of my hand.

 

One summer afternoon, I drove to the home and almost missed it, it seemed oh so small to this Black girl of 60. The porch was completely closed in, closed off to summertime exchanges made by the light of insects caught in a jar. I put the car in park, closed my eyes to remember the house as it was. Memories cataloged, I drove them home to sit on my balcony with yellow chairs that allowed my feet to touch the ground, called some friends to come for conversation, and as I poured a glass of iced tea, other porches came into view.

 

The side porch of my paternal grandparents’ home in Hampton was screened in when I was little. I didn’t visit it very often because my family only headed south once a year; Route 1 was a journey along a long country road where we weren’t allowed to stop just anywhere back then. It was hard for me to remember the furnishings of this outdoor room, difficult for me to recall anything of note happening, however just outside was a huge magnolia tree, white blossoms overwhelming the warm southern summer air with a fragrance that intoxicated me. My sister and I would scramble to open the screen door, our short arms barely reaching the handle, so we could descend the five steps that, as my mind looked back, seemed so very steep, in order to get out to climb the tree.

As we got a little older, we would spend time high above the ground perched on a limb then drop down to fly around the corner to my great grandparents’ home. Their porch was on the front side of their house, black screens kept the bugs away, kept it cool on hot Virginia days. Much like my grandparents’ place in D.C., they too had those round-backed metal chairs, only theirs were red. Being on their porch was like being in heaven. My great-grandparents treasured us; thought me and my siblings were the “purtiest” (prettiest) children they had ever seen. Being on the porch with them was special, though I really didn’t know exactly why. What I came to know many years after the last time I set foot on the two gray steps that led up to the screen door was, once opened, love just floated out to welcome us in.

Sometime close to that last time, I was back around the corner at my grandparents’. By then, the side porch had been screened in, closed off to the view of the magnificent magnolia. No longer a veranda, it had become a den just off the dining room, an extra indoor room that was much needed to accommodate family when family visited. We watched TV and giggled with our cousins, slept on the convertible sofa as the sounds of crickets, and the sweet aroma of magnolia blossoms lulled us to slumber.

 

I lived in two different apartments in the state of New York, each with a balcony that paled in comparison to the porches I’d known as a child though I used them as a place to escape. Friends came to sit with me, sip with me…simple moments that thinking back, aroused a joy in my soul, much like the moments spent on balconies abroad. For the most part, my time on these outdoor spaces could never compete with any ancestral porch I’d known; though one in Sorrento, Italy did touch me deeply, captured my spirit.

The hotel door opened. Directly across the room was a door leading to an expansive terrace that overlooked the blue-green waters of the Mediterranean. Mt. Vesuvius rose in the distance with a small cloud hovering around its peak; I stopped breathing. The sound of a bell ringing out somewhere on the night sea sang in my ears as I closed my eyes remembering…. the night of a storm, standing at the door as the rain pelted the glass not able to see the sea in the darkness before I slept only to be awakened by the cracking of thunder, the brightness of lightning, both sharp yet not frightening. I was drawn to the door to witness the beauty of a storm, the second time in my life that a higher power had asked me to consider thunder and lightning as a comfort, not a threat.

The next morning, the lapis blue tiles that covered the entire outdoor surface, wet from the night before, called to me. As I stepped out, my bare feet waded into cool puddles of water, the sun casting shimmering ripples on the sea as I walked over to the guard rail. High above the vista before me, I was carried away by the view of boats carrying passengers across, the peace of early morning, the lushness of it all.

My mind took me on a quick trip back in time to a moment when I stepped out onto a tiny balcony that overlooked the Nile in Cairo, Egypt to capture the flurry of wild bumper to bumper traffic moving across a bridge at dawn; the twinkling of car lights dancing in the morning rush hour, stepped out in the evening to a stunning sunset that took my breath away, and was later transfixed by the glittering lights of night movement on the bridge, boats in the water, the city on the other side of the bridge, and the restaurants that dotted the shore across from my room.

Egypt changed me in ways that I am still unpacking…

 

– – – – –

An hour had passed.

From the seat of my car, my body descended the stairs of that bungalow home with a wrap around porch that invited me to come up the steps, sit down, rest a moment. Though my feet will never again ground themselves on the floor of porches past, will never again listen to the voices of grand people whose DNA resides in the home which is my body as they conversed, I am grounded when I step onto a porch by nature or the energy that is waiting for me to feel it. There would be more memorable moments to be created in outdoor, out front rooms that overlook the life in front of me.

I headed home to make some tea, wipe down the yellow chairs on my balcony, and sit down to wait for the first sight of lightning bugs.

 

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