The front porch was the door to the world “out there.” As a kid, it was the stepping off point to the world that never forced us to step off. It was the place through which the outside world would come into mine; monitored and managed in a way that didn’t make the world safe, but that pared and neutered it sufficiently to make it safe whenever it was granted entrance. As a kid, other than it being huge, I didn’t know everything that was out beyond the oak planks and cement steps. What I knew however was that the front porch would unflinchingly manage its entrance into my life.
It was a rarely used place because I found the solace of home much better than the turmoil of a world I didn’t understand. The front porch was that first step out into that world; the threshold to whatever was out there. I suppose it was something akin to witnessing terribly frightening realities from a vantage point of absolute safety; vulnerability rendered neutral either by safety or the sturdy knowledge that safety breeched would not be unsafe at all on the porch.
That’s what made it the safest place of all. It was the stepping off point to a big world that I knew little of. It seemed like the portal from the safety and embracing warmth of my world to whatever lay out there; fixed and firm but never naïve. In the child of my mind, the front porch edged right up to the world, but it held me perfectly safe and completely secure all the while. It provided me a front row seat as the happiness and horror of life paraded by, holding me, it seemed, entirely in perfect peace. I loved the front porch.
George Moore astutely pointed out that "a man travels the world over in search of what he needs and returns home to find it." Somehow I knew that I would someday step off the front porch and go out there into whatever the world was, and that the journey would eventually return me to this place. But for now, it was a magical and certain haven on the sidelines of life.
Fall always graced the front porch with vibrantly colored leaves from the massive maples that lined the street as mammoth sentries. Hardwood behemoths, they would rain color; drops of searing reds falling in torrents when the wind blew firm. Blown onto the front porch the spun in royal red eddies; dancing with abandon as the wind courted them with a mix of tease and intention.
The turn of the season always invited me to the front porch to watch fall hand itself off to winter. You could watch it all safely from the front porch, as you could watch anything. It was, it seemed, somehow the best of all worlds.
With three or four bulbous pumpkins, several stalks of dried corn cinched tight with flax cords, a ragged bale of hay and a handful of incandescent leaves as trimming, we would dress the front porch for fall. It became a stage of sorts from which we would celebrate the departure of fall; pulling onto the front porch all the assorted things that symbolized the season. It was all staged right there on the oak tongue and groove flooring. We said goodbye from the safety of that place, acknowledging a passing from the kind distance that the front porch afforded us.
Adulthood and Distance Gone
They were other dying eyes the weekend my Mom died; one pair so much younger and entirely unexpected. I met them on the front porch. It’s not a long front porch, other than being long with the kind of miles that memories pave; lined generously with so much of my childhood. If memories were to define its breadth, it would stretch beyond any home to contain it. The tongue and groove flooring is yet firm, having welcomed and ushered feet both wandering and intentional to a sturdy oak door for nearly one hundred years. Friends, visitors and strangers have all crossed its planking in order to engage the family within; that defining portal to the world out there.
How do you grasp a place framed by towering pines and muscular mapl