I am not one for loquacious quotes usually. However, when something is said right, there is typically no other way to say it. Case in point.

15 years ago country singer Tracy Lawrence wrote a song titled If the World Had a Front Porch. In it Lawrence spoke about his front porch and how it transcends the physical into the metaphysical. And I quote,

It was where my mama sat on that old swing with her crochet
It was where grandaddy taught me how to cuss and how to pray
It was where we made our own ice cream those sultry summer nights
Where the bulldog had her puppies and us brothers had our fights
There were many nights I’d sit right there and look out at the stars
To the sound of a distant wippoorwhill or the hum of a passin’ car
It was where I first got up the nerve to steal me my first kiss
And it was where I learned to play guitar and pray I had the gift
If the world had a front porch like we did back then
We’d still have our problems but we’d all be friends
Treatin’ your neighbor like he’s your next of kin
Wouldn’t be gone with the wind
If the world had a front porch like we did back then

Like many folks my age, I didn’t grow up with a large porch, per se. In fact, our home had what I would call a stoop. But being a family with strong Southern ties, hardly a summer night passed that we didn’t pile up in the driveway with lawnchairs and iced tea for a daily dose of debate and democracy. It was not just our way of “coming of age.” It was and perhaps remains a historical activity that dates back 150 years or better.

Porches were a necessity before air conditioning, whether it was the screened sleeping porch or the broad, columned veranda where iced tea — and gossip — were plentiful.

In the mid-1800s, a well-known landscape gardener named Andrew Jackson Downing began writing about his vision of the American home — and how it could stand apart from English architecture. The porch was key. Downing saw it as the link from the house to nature. It served perhaps as a sort of transitional space between the privacy of ones family to the public realm of the street.

Some evening when the sun is setting and there is a slight breeze coming from the East I like to close my eyes and imagine a time when life was simpler. I like to think about a time when no one would choose text messaging over good, live conversation. I think about sweet tea or perhaps an after dinner cup of coffee enjoyed in time to the rocking of an old cane chair. Children play in the front yard imagining themselves a ship captain or the Lone Ranger out on the mesa.

When Crystal and I first left Brooklyn and moved back with my folks in rural Barnesville, GA my father and I shared moment I thought would never come. Each morning for the 15 or so minutes before we had to break and go to work he and I would sit in rockers on his front porch and solve the world’s problems. We would talk quietly and laugh and shake our head in disbelief between sips of rich, black, coffee. The sun would come up and every few minutes a semi would pass either going to or leaving one of the many chicken houses along his road. It was a time that I long for even now.

But today, many homes don’t have that transitional space, and air-conditioning, television, computers and other enticements draw people inside the home. American porch culture isn’t what it used to be. Mama doesn’t crochet much as she is often busy answering emails or shuttling one of the kids here and there. Grandaddy likely lives in an assisted living facility and has a porch’ette’ of his own. And stealing that first kiss? With the onslaught hypersexual television and music, most kids find kisses to be boring and not nearly as “mature” as other activities.

Porch sitting seems to be a thing of the past. If a home does have a porch it serves only as a “store all” for potted plants and welcome mats. Cat calls to friends walking by have long been silenced and the rocking chairs are seemingly reserved for the waiting line at Cracker Barrel restaurants. It kind of makes me wonder what would life be like if the world did have a front porch?


Photo Credit: 

Quaker Family Sitting on Front Porch as Father Reads from the Bible originally published for LIFE magazine.