In small towns, like the one I grew up in Wisconsin, as well as in the older neighborhoods of large cities, there are still old houses with porches. Often they are close enough to the sidewalk that people walking by can talk to the people sitting there. Porches are also good for writing.
In the summer, in the time before air conditioners and cable TV, people would come out to their porch after dinner to cool down, put their feet up, and talk until it became too dark to see each other’s faces — how everyone’s day went, who was having surgery tomorrow, who was in town visiting relatives, and what did everyone think about the plan to build a new school?
Sitting on the porch, they listened to the birds chatting in the darkening trees, watched the yellow sun set over the horizon and, as the clouds cleared from the sky, they felt the air grow cool and saw the stars begin to emerge. If heat from the day is lingering, maybe they’re drinking iced tea, lemonade, mint juleps or beer to cool down. If dark clouds were moving in with rain, they talked about that, and how the farmers would be pleased.
Porches are friendly places. They invite social interaction. Houses today aren’t built with porches. Subdivisions often don’t have sidewalks, and front yards are so large that people walking by can only wave across the distance. Most people stay inside, away from the mosquitoes, and don’t know the people who live two houses down. Even in our own neighborhoods we don’t feel part of a living community. If we are struggling with an illness, loneliness or depression, we try to be strong on our own.
I live in a large city now, and after dinner I pretend that I’m working in the yard just so I can say hello to people walking by. Sometimes we talk for a time and get a sense of each other’s lives, and how, no matter how different, we are still so much the same.