CATEGORY: COL Columns (Journal)

AUTHOR: HARPER

Editor's note: Phyllis Harper is taking a break from writing her column and has selected some of her favorites for reprinting. This column first appeared in May 1987.

You can't sit on a porch without learning to love

Too many houses without porches - that's half of what's wrong with the world.

If Yasser Arafat could sit on a porch and listen to the rain for a few days, he'd join the Boy Scouts. Put Tammy Bakker on a porch to watch the evening sun go down enough times, she'd become an ascetic.

Some time on a porch would tame Joan River's acerbic tongue, persuade Liz Taylor to give her diamonds to help Mother Teresa, and have Bette Midler singing hymns. Enough porch sessions would turn Ralph Nader into a Pollyanna (Pollyandy?) driving a Corvair.

If Muammar Kaddafi had a porch to sleep on during those hot summer nights in Libya, he'd soon be a friendly fellow.

Building a house without a porch is asking for trouble. After decades of such building, it's time to write porch requirements into building codes. Show me a porch and I can sit for hours. It's a talent worth cultivating.

Emceeing the Log Cabin Bluegrass Festival with Buddy and Kay Bain last week was fun, but after a long hot day we headed for Fawn Grove and sat on the screened porch at Grandy's old house that Tom and Susan McDonald have rebuilt.

We listened to rain on the tin roof before it slowed to a plop-plop-plop off the eaves. The wind ruffled the lake, swished through the trees, and after it slacked a frisky colt took to the pasture to try its mother's patience.

We talked about fishing, but it sounded like too much effort. So, along with Merlene Reedy, we went up to my aunts' house to eat supper and sit on their porch for a while.

Going to Grandy's old house evoked memories of peaceful times in my childhood, secure times when family gathered on a porch to watch the evening from sunset to dark to starshine. We sat on the porch, and let night breezes blow through open windows and cool the house before bedtime.

It was an unwinding time at the end of a busy day with gentle talk of work done in fields and pastures and gardens - talk of plowing and hoeing, gathering from the gardens and canning, and of plans for more of the same on the morrow.

There was a good feeling of earned rest after physical labor, satisfaction with a day's work well done. And there was plenty of work on a farm. We worked hard knowing the day would end with this evening respite, that we would sit on the porch after supper and rest and talk and sometimes sing.

Porches and halls helped keep the house cool. The L-shaped screened porch in the back was for summer dining, and with a well-porch attached to it, afforded space where days were spent preparing and preserving fruits and vegetables.

A north porch went from kitchen to storage room and smokehouse, and we sometimes sat there to shell and peel the produce of summer that would feed us all winter.

But the front porch was the place where family gathered, one or two at a time, as evening neared. There were double swings at either end, two double settees against the wall, other odd chairs. My favorite spot was the steps, once I was too big to sit on Grandy's lap and be rocked to sleep.

We watched colors sift downward through the clouds, following the sun behind the western horizon, and saw the panorama of our own growing fields and orchards, the lake below and woods in the background.

As darkness approached, we listened to frogs and whippoorwills, heard an occasional owl, and sometimes discussed an unusual bird call that no one could identify with surety.

Whizzing a small rock through the air brought bullbats swooping after what they thought was an insect meal. Fireflies would soon flit through the yard close to us.

From far away would come a pinpoint of light, and with that first visible star someone was sure to say: "Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight. Wish I may, wish I might, have the wish I wish tonight." Such wishes were the first prayers of my childhood. I've wished on so many stars.

Before long, adult voices would fade in and out of focus, and I'd hear someone announce that is was time for bed, that we'd had a busy day with another awaiting next morning. We'd go inside where beds had been turned down and were waiting for us.

We never had lights to find our way, because they would have added heat. We didn't need them, and I don't remember being afraid of the dark.

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