Published 9:50 am Wednesday, December 18, 2013

by James D. Howell

Our house has two porches. The front porch is used occasionally; the back porch is a working area used daily. Our house used to be divided, the front bedrooms and living room separate from the kitchen. It was intentional; many houses burned down as a result of a chimney fire in the kitchen.

Separation mostly prevented sleeping persons from dying and preserved the larger part of the house from destruction. Open fireplaces have inherent hazards from hot coals popping out onto dry wooden floors. Modern cooking stoves and free standing, enclosed heaters reduce the hazard significantly.

Our back porch was built and screened in before our arrival. It bridges the gap between the kitchen and living areas, and most household activities take place on the porch or in the kitchen. It extends alongside the kitchen and ends with a small closet. A screened door is placed opposite the back door of the kitchen. Windows in the kitchen overlook the porch and the yard beyond.

My mother has a permanent chair on the back porch close by the household entry and uses it while she prepares food for meals, shuck, shell, cut up, or prepare vegetables, patch holes in clothing, or any of the other hundreds of chores that are a part of farm life. Close by her knee is where I and my siblings learn our ABCs, learn to count by single digits, twos, threes, fours and fives, up to as many digits as we can handle. We recite multiplication tables and play silly word games.

Mostly, my mother ignores our behavior, or I think she does. My mother doesn’t miss much.

Our back porch is a storage area. When we get the electric washing machine, it is stored on this porch and moved to the yard for use. In a small closet and hanging on hooks at one end is a collection of often and not so often used items: Kerosene lanterns, with a can of kerosene, gum boots, electric cords, small wash (foot) tubs, buckets, hats, lard stands, animal traps, and partially used containers of anything. The back entrance to the porch is the everyday use portal.

Our house is supported by brick piers, keeping the building level on the slight hill. The rear part is about three feet higher off the ground than the front. That creates a sheltered play area under the back porch. My siblings and I have sand hills, roads, and an ever changing layout for toy trucks, cars or tractors made from cotton thread spools. It’s protected from summer sun, but not winter cold.

Our front porch is used little for daily living; it’s a short distance removed from routine tasks. Mostly it functions as a meet and greet, winter play and summer socializing area. People that know us always come to the back door.

Late summer evenings are sometimes enjoyed here also; the open porch seems to catch more cool breezes than the mostly screened in back porch. Road traffic (what little there is) can also be viewed and commented on here.

Our front porch chairs are an eclectic mixture of what is available. There’s a straw bottomed rocker with a well worn homemade pillow, a bent frame metal chair with a similar homemade pillow, a wooden straight back chair with a bottom that was once straw, but is now interlaced window sash cord.

Window sash cord is also used for clothesline when the need arises, and for our children’s games of knot tying and tying each other up and trying to escape. We try to replicate scenes from comic books.

Our porches are our main living and work areas. Friends are greeted here; food is prepared here; games are played here. Our front porch even has an overhead electric light. Most of the time the bulb is dark. When family is late arriving, whether from local wanderings or distant homes, the light is left on for them.

When I wander far afield, or am feeling the pain of poor decisions, I like to think that the light is left on for me, also.