If you don’t know by now, let me remind you: our house is very small; that’s why we named it ‘Standing Room Only.’ But it lives large, and no single room lives larger than our front porch. We take our morning coffee there; in the afternoon, you can find us in our accustomed chairs, one of us always ready to chat. At cocktail hour, we entertain our friends on the porch. and in the quiet of the evening, we’re likely to have a last glass of wine before bed: she on her swing, me in my porch rocker. We joke that someday should we ever decide to sell Standing Room Only, the porch will not convey.
In his poem Mending Wall, Robert Frost puts it plainly: “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.” I wonder what he would have to say about a front porch. It seems to me to be the face of our house, the smile that greets us when we return home from a day away, or the welcome we give to friends and strangers alike. We’ve had artists request our permission to paint it. Tourists often stop to admire it. I’m not bragging; this isn’t about me or us or anything we’ve done. It’s about what an architect or builder thoughtfully added to a small cottage built more than 130 years ago.
Now, I won’t lie. We live in a wood house and maintenance is always an issue. Two years ago, with the blessing of the Maryland Historic Trust, we replaced the tin roof that covers the porch, but weather is weather and people are people so rain gets in, spills happen. But the porch never complains. We sweep it in the morning, remove its clutter every night. It sails on and on, ready for whatever or whoever comes next.
Sometimes, I wonder what the world must think of us: “There they are again, just sitting on their porch. Don’t they ever do anything?” Well, just so you know, the porch often doubles as an office. I like to write there, and my realtor wife is likely doing some research or closing a deal from the porch. We just look like we’re idling, but we’re really busy. Just ask the porch.
Barbara Grizzuti Harrison is an accomplished American essayist who knows her way around a good phrase or two. She once wrote that “porches are America’s lost rooms.” Maybe to some, Ms. Harrison, but ours isn’t lost; it’s more than found! Ray Bradbury, better known for his wonderful science fiction, was on to something closer to home when he wrote that “heaven is a house with porch lights.” But my favorite porch quote is from Rebecca Wells: “I want to lay up like that, to float unstructured, without ambition or anxiety. I want to inhabit my life like a porch.” Yes!
I think I mentioned that last week, we had family visiting us in town. Well, on Saturday night, there we all were on the porch: laughing, chatting, reminiscing, planning. The porch is a good place for any or all of those activities. It wraps its arms around us, keeps us safe. It’s always there when we need it. It keeps our secrets.
Our porch defines us much more than we define it, and that’s exactly how it should be. So, if you should happen to need me, now you know where to find me.
I’ll be right back.
Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer who lives in Chestertown. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy Magazine. His new novel “This Salted Soil,” a new children’s book, “The Ballad of Poochie McVay,” and two collections of essays (“Musing Right Along” and “I’ll Be Right Back”), are available on Amazon. Jamie’s website is Musingjamie.net.