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May, 2007


by Julia

Porches which loom large in my memory were centers of social interaction. In Waco, TX where I lived before and during the Great Depression, we had a front porch and screened in side porch. The side porch had plenty of room for a cot for resting in the hot afternoons and sleeping during the sultry nights of summer.

A modern view (photo taken by Ann in about 2000) of the porch on Aunt Maggie and Uncle Henry's house, at 600 S. 10th, Waco, TX (their summer living room).

The front porch however was the place where the action was. Almost all houses had porches and were the gathering place for congenial conversation among our neighbors. A frequent custom was to invite relatives or other guests to come for Sunday dinner and then sit on the front porch to catch up on all the news. Our porch was framed by flowers; and pots of ferns sat on the side supports of the steps, providing a welcome sight for visitors. Of course we had a porch swing, and I know of nothing more conducive to relaxation than to gently push back and forth while thinking long thoughts on the future or simply being at ease.

In those days before air-conditioning, television, and other daily distractions, the front porch was used in the summer for many activities. We children used the porch as the base for planning our many games - hide and seek, pigs in the pen, and lots of others. Our mothers used the porch to play their games - a card game named Flinch comes to mind. Our fathers played dominoes or "Forty Two". When I was a teenager my great aunt Maggie and her husband Henry moved into the home directly across the street. That house had a large wraparound porch, and Uncle Henry would often spend leisurely afternoons there indulging in his favorite sport, shooting flies with a rubber band. This he accomplished by wrapping the band around two fingers on his right hand, then pulling back the free part of the band with his left hand, making a tiny slingshot. Then he would wait patiently for an unwary fly to light within range. His triumphant expression when he "got one" was priceless. In the long hot summers there was an endless supply of quarry.

A 1924 photo of Julia on the porch at the 603 S. 10th, Waco, TX, home of her Grandpappa (her father's father, John) and Grandmamma (her father's mother, Hattie, who was also, like Julia, sometimes called Henrietta).
As I grew older, I learned that life was not all fun and games however. Dirt and disorder had to be eradicated, and I was expected to join in to do my share. Every Saturday I had to participate in the general cleaning, including sweeping and hosing the front porch. It seemed such a huge porch, and yet, when I visited years later, it seemed to have shrunk. Still my memory of the importance of the custom of using our porches is not diminished. They helped to hold us together as a community. When the children ran here and there, the neighbors kept their eyes peeled to spot any problem. When the gardens were producing (and almost all had vegetable gardens in their backyards) the ladies often got together to shell black-eyed peas or snap beans, a great support system for coping with the trials many had.

Often the ladies, when all other chores were done, would sit on the porch to piece quilts; with the various patterns cut they would wield their magic with needle and thread. Many were plain, practical quilts planned for everyday use in the winter. However there were some which were wondrous to behold; these were kept for special company or just to bring out for show. For me was reserved the embroidering! My Grandmother firmly believed that "Idleness was the Devil's Workshop" and she was determined that I would not go there. I hated it at the time, and while I was fuming on the front porch about the task, I didn't understand that I was being taught a lesson which I needed. So, as I embroidered the cup towels, pillowcases, dresser scarves, and even table napkins, I learned that if I didn't do it well I would have to do it over. Finally, to my credit, I developed pride in doing a good job the first time and could bask in the praise of the neighbors who came by to see my handiwork.

I think now of the use of our porches as the glue that held a neighborhood together. Our so called "advances," such as air-conditioning, television, and the felt need to constantly be on the go in our automobiles have too much of the time eliminated family as I knew it. To provide all the "things," it is often necessary for both parents to work. Just as most homeowners no longer have a porch, they also don't even have time to sit on it and visit. With advancing age I find I am nostalgic for the past, viewing it perhaps with rose-colored glasses. I have embraced the modern conveniences just as much as everyone else. It is only with the thoughts which have come to mind while writing that I realize that perhaps we have exchanged our birth right for a mess of pottage. I feel like saying let's all have front porches, sit out in the evening, and say "Hi" to anyone passing by!

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