The front porch served as a stage for family entertainment, churning butter, and a place to enjoy a summer rainstorm on the porch swing.
Families today, including mine, often have a deck attached to the back of their homes. The deck in my backyard surrounds a gorgeous dogwood tree, which is set in an open box. This is the place for picnics, fun and games with family and friends. Sitting back in my lounge chair, it can also be a place of contemplation or relishing in the beauty of nature and the surrounding trees.
This modern deck of mine brings forth the wonderful memories of my childhood deck, and in those days it was called “the porch.” Our porch was attached to the front of the house, and it was as wide as the house itself. It had a simple wooden railing painted white and trimmed in dark green.
This porch was not just a place to sit. It had a variety of purposes. It was a vast playground in the eyes of a child, even a place to do some kitchen chores. A place to wave at friendly neighbors who drove by. It was a place to entertain and visit with family and friends, and a refuge for the dogs and cats.
On the far side of the porch where there was no railing, we fed the dogs and cats on a stone slab nearby. We usually had only two dogs – a Saint Bernard and a small Terrier – but we had many, many cats. The porch was the place for these animals to take their naps throughout the day. My favorite cat was an Angora. I called her Dimble. Like all cats, Dimble loved throat strokes, while I was content listening to her soothing purrs.
It was not only an animal porch, it was a people porch. On hot, icky summer days, my parents would entertain guests and their children here. My mother always had fresh lemonade or mint tea from her garden on hand. Whatever was in season – from berries to melons – there was an ample supply to feed everyone.
If it was just my siblings or friends and me, the porch became a roller rink. Gliders and porch chairs were carried into the yard to provide more space. The skates were those metal flats that clipped onto the shoes, and a key could adjust the skates to fit any kid’s shoe. Oh could we fly! Back and forth, back and forth.
Once we tired of skates, there were other sports and games, such as jacks, jump rope and hopscotch. We would throw the ball against the wall in tricky ways, sometimes under the legs five times or more. Hours and hours of kid fun!
I always felt the “railing walk” to be my specialty. The rim of the cement porch protruded a few inches under the rail. My expertise was to shuffle my feet and walk sideways, without hanging on the rail. Most times I bet my older sister and brother I could walk the farthest on the rim.
One of the things my siblings and I were all good at was the porch swing, which hung from a chain attached to the roof. This feat was usually done alone in order to give the swing more springiness. We’d take turns, pushing with our legs, the swing reaching higher and higher, almost above the railing, then slamming back into the wall with a loud thud. We all managed to complete the feat at least once before our mother put a stop to “banging the wall to pieces!”
Similar to the swing, but not quite the same kind of fun, was a glider on the other side of the porch. I myself hardly used the glider unless we had a rainstorm. That was when I loved the glider most. When my father couldn’t work in the fields due to rain, he’d rest a spell on the glider with me by his side.
We’d listen for the crackling thunder and watch for lightning bolts in the distance or the soft rain hitting the grass. The most soothing sound to my ears was hearing the pelts of rain hit the tin roof above us. When the storm was over, my father and I rushed from one end of the porch to the other shouting, “Over here! Over here! The rainbow is over here!”
Of course, there are always chores to do for farm kids. The three youngest of us took turns hosing down the porch – along with anyone who was in our way. To me, this was a fun chore. It was a great feeling when water squeezed up through your toes on a hot summer day.
Some of our other chores were much nicer to do in the open air than a hot, stuffy kitchen. Mom would give us peas to shell, and we would use an old box for the shells. A pan for the peas themselves sat in front of us. Other times it was the husking of sweet corn or shelling walnuts from the tree. It was more fun if we siblings did these chores together, as we usually ended up in a pea-throwing fight or one of us thought of a devilish prank to pull on the others.
Butter churning was done at the step going down into the yard, where there was no railing. This is where I sat churning and churning the handle of the wooden butter churn. Between churns, I’d lift the lid and peek inside to see if the milk had thickened and small yellow lumps of butter could be seen. When Mom wasn’t nearby, I’d ladle out a spoonful of cream for the kittens, who lapped it up in no time.
Like the woodstove, the front porch was an important gathering space in those days, where the love for siblings, family, and life out where the pavement ends was strong and sturdy.
Carole Christman Koch is a retired church secretary. She lives in Allentown, Pennsylvania, with her husband. Together they enjoy spending time with their four children, five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.