I guess it started in the late ‘50s and has continued until now. In my opinion, it was a mistake then, and it is a mistake now. What I am talking about as “it,” is building houses without porches. And by porches, I do not mean those narrow little ledges that will barely hold a chair. I mean wide wooded verandas that separate the home from the world. Aside from what I learned at the meal table, I probably had more information imparted to me on porches than at any other one place. Especially was this true about family, relationships, the church, kinfolks and with even a little politics thrown in. Since families no longer gather at meal times, and since very few houses have real porches, it is no wonder that there is very little “family teaching” going on. Perhaps this is why the country is in such a mess.
I wrote a column some time back lamenting the demise of dirt roads. The loss of porches was even more critical. I guess that air conditioning and spiraling construction costs were the culprits. In retrospect, you don’t learn much of any good in an air-conditioned room with a blaring television, and the importance of porches as a social institution and teaching facility were such that other rooms should have been sacrificed if cost cutting was necessary.
My Walker grandparents, in an otherwise very modest home, had a wonderful front porch with great rockers and metal furniture. Not expensive stuff, but sturdy and good. Kind of like my grandparents. In the warm times, this is where we gathered to play Rook (the only allowable card game) or Monopoly or simply listen to the adults talk and teach. Then, when we visited the relatives in rural Washington County, we would sit on the visited kin’s porch and the elders would converse. The children, like me, would listen. On these porches is where I learned who I was and where I came from and what was expected of me. That, my friends, is essential if we are to have a workable society.
The W.W. Grays lived in Perry across the street, on Swift and Third, on the corner across from us. Their house had a wonderful front porch that was in constant use. The Gray family gathered there at night and some of the men smoked cigars. It was an exciting sight to see the glow of the cigar ash in the black of the night. Often, my curiosity at what was being said on the front porch got the best of me, and I would wander over for a visit. It seemed to me that I was always welcomed and soon I would be engrossed in listening to talk of farming and rain (or lack thereof) and politics. But the most exciting talk was of fishing. The Grays were great fishermen, often going to Florida, and their verbal reports of their exploits only served to stoke my vivid imagination. I learned much about much on the Grays’ front porch.
Later, I spent many wonderful days fishing with “Mr. Glea” Gray and “Mr. Hilt” Gray. I think it started, our great friendships, on the Grays’ front porch. And we caught lots of fish.
Porches were great social institutions – gathering places and places for friends to stop and visit. Porches were wonderful learning places, especially for the young to learn from the “old heads.” We made a bad mistake when we stopped building porches. I made an error when I built a house 30 years ago without a porch. I vowed not to make that mistake again.
When we built the house we have now, I wanted porches on all sides of the house. Of course, that wasn’t practical, but we did end up with two porches. We have a porch on the front, not screened, and a screened porch on the back. Sometimes when we are on the back porch in the swing, I think of Grandma and Papa and all I have learned on porches. Let me say this, porches are better than all of those electronic devices — and time spent there might even develop into a good fishing trip. And, brothers and sisters, a fishing trip is a mighty good thing. Too bad I don’t have the Gray brothers, Seabie Hickson and Billy Bledsoe to go with me.
Larry Walker is a practicing attorney in Perry. He served 32 years in the Georgia General Assembly and presently serves on the University System of Georgia Board of Regents. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.