The American Front Porch
What characterizes small town America more than its front porches?
Many of us live in large cities or in our case, just moved from. These cities are vibrant and exciting; however, they can also be anonymous and isolating. How many of you can remember speaking to a neighbor in the last week or month or even the last year? Moreover, those who spoke to a neighbor, did you have a conversation or was it a greeting and quick exit to something less personal?
Most of us grew up in large towns or even larger cities. In spite of this, each of us has an image hidden somewhere in our mind of the great American front porch. The American front porch is all about neighborhood and family. Many of us grew up watching Andy Hardy movies – definite front porch America. Can anyone imagine Mayberry without front porches? Moreover, would Norman Rockwell have had a career without the American front porch?
The 500 block of West Burleson in Marshall, Texas is still home to the American front porch. Porches large or small; young, middle age, or older neighbors sitting and talking; in the morning, afternoon, or evening — these are our neighbors and our porches.
The front porch of each house is a neighborhood gathering spot for friends and family. The porch may be large with a hanging swing and rocking chairs, shallow with a row of benches and rocking chairs, long with an extra balcony above and rocking chairs, or decorated with spindles and rail painted in Victorian colors with rocking chairs. Front porches and rocking chairs just go together. Each porch is individual in design but all conveys you are welcome — not just welcome but must come up to sit a spell and have a talk.
We have met every one of our neighbors not at the grocery store, church, or the corner bar but on the front porch. No invitation is required or issued to visit; you just walk up and say, “hi”.
The other day as we returned from walking Jack, the dog, Nancy saw our next-door neighbors sitting on their porch. The three of us walked up and we introduced ourselves to Gloria and Perry Bonner. Then we talked. Perry is 83 recovering from a heart attack and using a dialysis machine and Gloria is a couple of years younger and can remember the fun of dancing with Perry on the top floor of the Hotel Marshall in the 50s. There we were on their front porch with Perry sitting in a rocking chair holding his brass capped walking stick and Gloria in blue curlers next to him in her rocker with the morning newspaper between them.
We talked of fun things – their travel, sad things – last year’s death of their son who Nancy went to school with, and in between mixed in a little neighborhood gossip. We talked as friends for better than 45 minutes and not a complaint about life was heard from any of us.
Toward the end of our talk the War came up. Slowly but surely it comes out that we are talking with a living American hero. Perry was with the Big Red One – North Africa, Sicily, Omaha Beach and into Germany before coming home. Gloria could not get up, into the house, and back fast enough with Perry’s cap and pinned medals. She said, “I am so proud of my man.” On the front of his cap is his Infantry Combat Badge and two Presidential Unit Citations. On the side of the cap three silver stars, four bronze stars, three purple hearts and assorted other medals. No discussion on how Perry earned the medals. Perry’s silence, Gloria’s smile, and the medals did all the talking for the next minute or so.
Next Gloria hands us two framed citations from the government of France. Perry’s only comment is, “It took better than 50 years for the French to send these to me and I almost sent them back last year.” In his hand was the walking stick of Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. Perry was with Roosevelt when he died of a heart attach five weeks after landing on Utah Beach where Roosevelt’s actions earned him the Medal of Honor.
Our own front porch is our favorite porch. It is L-shaped, 12 feet in depth, 38 feet on the long side facing the street and 17 feet on the short side facing our newly landscaped side yard. We have a hanging swing at the corner of the L, a wicker settee at the end of the short side, and a second settee with overhead ceiling fan and flanked by two big white rocking chairs facing the front yard. We have recently added several large pots with plants and no later than next spring hanging potted plants will be a part of our front porch.
This is where we met our first two neighbors. The first week we were here, Jacque stopped her SUV, hopped out, walked onto the porch, and introduced herself. Within ten minutes she had invited us to join a Thursday night dinner group and attend the following evening’s gathering. Jackie is like us: younger middle age; part time consulting and teaching at one of the universities in Shreveport; and returning to Marshall after marriage, a son, a full-time career, and seeing the world.
A day or two later while painting kitchen cabinet shelves on the porch I hear a booming, “Howdy neighbor”. This is Scotty. Scotty is about our age, weighs a good bit more than me, is a probation officer, and has done an incredible job restoring his Victorian house. To Scotty it’s never “Hi Tom” but always “Howdy neighbor”.
More than once while walking Jack we have been invited up to the porch for a neighborly chat. We have waved to others on their porches or they to us on our porch. The Burleson porches bring us together not just as neighbors but also as friends and members of the Burleson street family.
The front porch is an All-American living cultural icon. This front porch icon creates a place to gather for neighbors and family to talk about anything and everything. Our Burleson street porches encourage a sense of community and neighborliness like none of the other dozen plus places I’ve called home. Our porches connect us to our neighbors and provide a quite place for Nancy and me to peacefully sit and talk. A house with a front porch on a street of houses with front porches calls out for neighbors to be neighbors.
Come see the porches of Burleson street. Bring your white linen suit, Panama hat and we will serve up the drinks. Then we can all sit back, talk, and rock away the day’s cares on our porch.