The Lost Art of Porch Sitting
I recently reconnected with a former neighbor. As we said our goodbyes I reminisced about the time, nearly a decade ago now, that we used to sit on the front porch of my house and chat. We didn’t have anything complicated to discuss. Our chats primarily centered around humorous stories, family trips, volunteer gigs and sometimes we even tried to better ourselves by deciding to try something new together. “Let’s try a Pilates class at the community college!” we decided. We giggled our way through the class, sometimes getting a stern motherly look from the instructor. But the class got us through the winter months when it was too cold to sit out front and provided a benefit to our waistlines.
An online article by Booth Features for MLive notes the peak of popularity for the front porch was from the early 1880s to the middle 1920s. Families would relax on the porch after dinner. Neighbors taking an evening stroll might be invited up. Feature suggests technology caused the decline of the front porch by the 1950s when radio, then television and automobiles that opened up entertainment options, stole our attention. By the 1930s and 40s, the modern home replaced the porch with a front stoop.
When my husband and I moved 110 miles from our cherished front porch, we fell into the “modernized house” fad. Our house was already built and we were surrounded by empty lots. As neighboring houses were built, it was rare to see a front porch or a stoop. As a result, it took longer to get to know our neighbors. My husband and I decided we’d become the “wavers” as we drove by the homes and the owners were out front. That wasn’t as well received as we’d hoped. Some folks refused to wave back while others looked the other way when they saw us approaching. We got a chuckle out of that. But gradually, waves led to talks at the community mailbox. Then cars would sometimes stop if they saw my husband and me on a walk. Then, as luck would have it, technology. Yes, the very item that was partially to blame for the abandonment of the porch seemed to be bringing folks back together! Our neighbors started mounting televisions in their garages. Then came the lawn chairs. Then the sports attire to cheer on a favorite baseball team or NASCAR driver. Could the benefits of the front porch be having a comeback?
The garage gatherings can’t compete with the conversations that I recall with my friend. Nor do you find someone pulling out a guitar to strum as Andy Griffith so frequently did on his porch in Mayberry. But a garage gathering seems to be bringing some community back to the neighborhood. And one of the benefits I’ve noticed is married couples will gather with other couples. And kids will strike up a game of basketball in the driveway once they see parents gathered. The TV volume is kept low, lawn chairs are provided, cold beverages are offered and many times a family dog or two are at your feet.
While we have enjoyed the togetherness that garage gatherings have afforded, if my husband and I are lucky enough to build a home, we’ll definitely include a 1900s era front porch. And who knows, maybe we’ll keep the TV in the garage as well. Morning coffee on the porch, and evening baseball in the garage. Americana at its finest.