By Lex Suite
I was listening to some people discussing architectural changes over the past years. How you don’t see certain nuances like winding staircases or ornate verandas in modern homes. Well, I thought and realized that I don’t see as many front porches as I used to. However, there are still more than a few around.
I didn’t know front porch sitting was no longer in vogue. I am going to show my age, because when I was a child and visited my grandmothers, we always “set” on the front porch. And, some of you might remember this: we had a swing. Getting to the swing was always the first thing the kids raced to accomplish. I suppose that was entertainment. To get in the swing and see how high you could propel it in the air until you received a strongly veiled threat to cease and desist.
Yes, some of you are already ahead of me, neither of my grandmothers had air conditioning. The front porch was always a way in the summer to beat the heat. Of course few homes today have air conditioners. Most have central heat and air (unless TVA turned yours off last week). My Gran Gran Worley lived on one of the main drags in my childhood hometown. Saturday would be the big night: Sitting on the front porch while the Grand Ole Opry played on a Bakelite plastic radio. Inevitably, when the Opry was turned off, we heard a high water preacher tell us we were going south if we didn’t change our ways!
Being on a major street in my hometown gave us access to those walking down the sidewalk, at all hours of the night, from the “Devil’s Elbow”: The Beer Barrel and the Town Pump. There was also a pool hall and a few bootleggers in the neighborhood as well. From our front porch view, we would often see their customers on their way in various states of repair.
Now let’s be clear. A front porch is not an outside bench. In my long lost youth, a number of outside “park” benches around our square. War veterans, whittlers, and even a curious young boy like me might be in the area. Tales were told. News and gossip was repeated. And in an age of insensitive manners, some of these older men might “wolf whistle” at a girl walking by.
Today the park benches in McLemoresville are located in two places: The City Park and Hometown Grocery. Today, I rarely see anyone “sit the bench” for very long. In the not too distant past, numerous male citizens sat in front of what was then Younger’s Grocery. The most entertaining event for me was when a traveler from Highway 70-A stopped to get directions. They benchwarmers always rose to give four or five different sets of directions with four or five explanations of how their specific instructions were the best. Oh, the good old days before smart phones.
The best of these savants was the late Herman Darnell. Being a longtime high school football coach, Mr. Herman would often have Saturday morning words of wisdom for me. He always seemed to find the right words. If we won, he was encouraging. If we lost, he might shake his head negatively but still end with some words of optimism. And sometimes when we won ugly, he might slip in a cutting barb to keep me humble. I always took something with me when I had a conversation with Herman Darnell. Now, all I see is an empty bench with some peeling paint.
But I digress, a front porch is not an outside bench. The front porch is a much more intimate setting. You have to be family or an invited guest to be come up on a front porch. The swing being the crown jewel of the usually mismatched furniture. To be seen on someone’s porch, of which you have no relation to, projects a sense of familiarity with the home’s owner. In olden days, it would be scandalous for an unmarried male and female to be seen unattended on a front porch.
Perhaps this is why the front porch has given way to the back porch, the Man Cave, the She Shed, and the privacy fence. It’s been a gradual thing. I have become a bit of a dinosaur. In nicer weather in my somewhat newer residence in McLemoresville, I like to sit on my front porch and drink coffee in the morning. You still see some interesting things. However, when I report my observations, I am often met with sheer disdain. I might tell someone, “I saw you driving back home Saturday Morning.” They will curtly reply, “Well, how do you know that?” Of course in my naivety, I will confess, “I saw you from my front porch.”
I tell some of my neighboring people, “I saw your lights on late last night. You having a party?” Here I was met with one of my personal favorite responses, “What are you doing looking?!?” It would have been much better to keep my mouth shut. Now I realize, when people see front porch people me, I believe they see us as voyeurs, Nosy Nellies, and town criers. And the best way to avoid such prying eyes is how good folk have moved all outside activities to the back porch covered by a wooded fence. And of course you can always retire to the privacy inside your own home and stream your favorite shows. If you are a Millennial, break out some good video games!
The heyday of the front porch may have passed its zenith. Perhaps the front porch looks to the future as Blockbuster must have once gazed upon Netflix. However, relics like myself, often scorned by my own kinsmen, still staunchly sit in a rocker sipping Chase and Sanborn. Please forgive me if I idle a bit, I will keep my keen observations to myself in my future. For you see I have found my coffee goes well with a front porch view of a West Tennessee sunrise