Appalachia

In Praise of Porches

After reading Garland Davis’s recent guest post about porches Jim Casada sent me the following piece he wrote a few years back.

front porch

“In Praise of Porches” written by Jim Casada

One of the many blessings folks living in the Smokies tend to take for granted is that they can enjoy their porches on balmy spring days, throughout the summer in early morning and from late afternoon until bedtime, and well into autumn when Indian Summer holds sway. With a fan and shade trees, even mid-day in the summer can be tolerable. Such is not the case everywhere. In fact, what might be styled the “porch season” has quite a lengthy run in the high hills of the southern Appalachians.

In today’s world of air conditioning, near addiction to television screens, and a seeming compulsion to be indoors, porches don’t loom nearly as large in everyday life as was once the case. Yet I’d like to sing the praises of porches, and much of my tribute comes directly from countless wondrous hours spent on them, mostly on the one at my boyhood home or that of my paternal grandparents. Of course there were porches aplenty elsewhere–summertime courtships where I had neither the money nor the transportation to do anything but visit (they provided a welcome bit of privacy), picking and grinning sessions on summer evenings, visits with friends or relatives, and much more.

When visitors came a-calling, weather permitting we adjourned to the porch overlooking the town and offering vistas of Frye Mountain, the head of Kirklands Creek, and the beginning of the Alarka range on the opposite side of the Tuckaseigee River valley. It was a grand place to be when thunderstorms threatened. On countless occasions when a good shower would have been most welcome we watched rains falling on the opposite ridgeline, sometimes so heavy they hid Frye Mountain, with flashes of lightning momentarily brightening the sky. We almost never got the benefit of those evening showers, because typical summer rain patterns brought rain from the southwest, moving up the river.

That porch was almost a second home to my sister. She would sing and rock for hours on end, and on one occasion when Daddy accidentally ran over a cat in the driveway, she purt nigh drove the rest of the household crazy with mournful tunes that in essence amounted to dirges. It was also a place to watch lightning bugs as light gave way to night, to observe Independence Day fireworks, or during the day to watch birds go about their business. A pair of screech owls which raised several generations of young in a huge white oak located nearby added to the appeal, and during the summer there was always a chorus of grasshoppers, katydids, and jar flies as background music.

Porches were a place for relaxation at day’s end, but they also witnessed plenty of work. Indeed, quite often work and rest went hand in hand. Sometimes a number of family members would gather to talk, but while they did so their hands were busy. The job at hand might involve stringing and breaking beans for a run of canning the next morning; shelling crowder peas or lima beans with the same end result in mind; peeling and quartering apples, either for drying or canning; working up a bushel or two of corn (shucking, scrubbing away silks, then cutting from the cob) for soup mix; cutting up okra; going through peaches beginning to go bad Mom had bought for a song to make preserves, and the like. More often than not anything that was canned included a session of porch work as part of the overall process.

Occasionally, usually on a Sunday afternoon, there would be a run of hand-churned ice cream. I don’t ever recall doing this at home but it happened on periodically at the home of Grandpa Joe and Grandma Minnie, usually when a bunch of cousins from out of town visited or maybe when a lot of us got together for a family meal.

Most memorable of all for me were porch sitting sessions with no one involved except Grandpa Joe and me. Sometimes this came when we had been placed in verbal exile (that is to say, Grandma had told us, in no uncertain terms, that we needed to get out of the house). Grandpa would mutter something about “they” not wanting us underfoot (he referred to Grandma Minnie as “they” whenever she was upset, apparently think the impersonal pronoun would ease the brunt of her ready wrath—it never did) and we would retreat to the porch.

There he would take his throne, a comfortable rocking chair which now, a full 60 years later, sits nearby as I’m writing this. Before long I would have induced him to share tales of yesteryear. Grandpa was a natural, gifted storyteller and it didn’t take much—just a request for a re-run of some oft-told tale such as the time he shot a “painter” (cougar)—and magic would unfold. I would sit enchanted for hours, doing little other than offering a bit of encouragement or tendering an occasional expression of rapt interest, as he relived what was clearly a rugged but exciting time in his life.

Add to that enjoyment of an icy watermelon or just resting after hours of hoeing corn, and the overall picture emerges of porches being special retreat, a tiny piece of paradise. They were the perfect place for so many things. Family gatherings, courtships, music, relaxation, rest between periods of work, enjoying the soothing movement of a rocking chair, sensing and savoring the rhythm of a gentle rain, and more. Porches were a place where you could be at peace with the world, and as singer/songwriter Tracy Lawrence suggested years ago in a country  hit, “If the World Had a Front Porch,” they were a place to reduce stress, solve problems, and slow down life’s often hectic pace.

—-

Tipper

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14 Comments

  • Reply
    Gigi
    July 11, 2020 at 4:34 pm

    Love our porches. We have 3. On our back porch, we even have a tv out there. Also a fan. Have to have my fan. On our side porch, I have a swing and a corner bench with bears carved on it. And for the front porch, we just redone it. It’s as long as the house is. I love it. My husband did a wonderful job on it. We don’t have the roof yet.I love setting out there, watching TV and drinking a cup of coffee or a cold Coke.

  • Reply
    Melinda
    July 11, 2020 at 3:32 pm

    Jim, you seem to have inherited Grandpa Joe’s talent for storytelling…& sparked memories of many of your readers.
    My dad rebuilt our front porch – doubling the width for youngsters to ride tricycles, etc. For the foundation he used flagstone dug up from the old ‘walks that once led from the pre-Civil War family cabin to the ‘new’ frame house. It was built after one son survived the war and wanted to bring his bride to a real house. More flagstone came from paths to the smokehouse, woodhouse &other ‘Primrose Path’.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    July 11, 2020 at 1:50 pm

    We musn’t forget the strings of leatherbritches, bundles of onions and hot peppers hanging to dry from the rafters. We musn’t forget the fishbait (wasp’s larvae) in their little paper honeycomb upside down homes. We musn’t forget the nests of birds with pretty colored little speckled eggs or baby birds with their disproportionally sized mouths. We musn’t forget bright red hummingbird feeders swaying gently in the breeze as if to tease their tiny visitors. We musn’t forget Grandpa’s tools stuck up in the eaves long after he had departed for his supernal abode “Leave that alone! That was your Grandpa’s stuff!” We musn’t forget wind chimes giving voice the zephyrs of summer. We musn’t forget spiders spinning their gossamer threads into a net in hope of entrapping some errant insect but must often catching the eye of a preadolescent Homo Sapien “Get away from there! That is a black widder! If that thang bites you, you’ll be dead before you can turn around.” We musn’t forget fly swatters hanging from their respective nails or across a lap behind a bowl of freshly peeled peaches.
    For eight months or more out of the year the porch was where most of my ancestors lived. It was the most used room in a home. Unfortunately I have no porch. I have a deck in front, a deck behind and a carport devoid of its intended occupants. The combination don’t not equal a single porch but they will have to suffice!

    • Reply
      Ed Ammons
      July 11, 2020 at 10:20 pm

      Yeah, I know musn’t ain’t the way you spell it but it’s the way you say it. Who pronounces it mustn’t anyway?

  • Reply
    Debbie
    July 11, 2020 at 12:25 pm

    My best memories are sitting on screened porch at my Grandma Wilson’s.I loved to listen to the stories when they lived in Western NC.

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    July 11, 2020 at 12:15 pm

    Tipper,
    I enjoyed Jim’s story of ‘Porches”. We had a Front Porch that folks entered first, unless they came around to the kitchen door. We never locked our doors, either at night or on Sundays, when we were at Church. ( Dope heads weren’t even thought about then. )

    Everybody needs a “Grandpa Joe” or an “Uncle Joe”, you may not agree with their Lifestyles so much, but you can learn things from them.

    I had a Grandma Delia, sister to “Uncle Joe Matheson”, and Mama’s Mother, that was an excellent storyteller. She told me and Harold about having 16 kids. One day, with all tham kids, she slipped off and went to get milk out of the Spring. On the way back, she noticed a small Kitten and stopped and gave it some Milk. That night, a big cat jumped on the roof and began scratching. She grabbed a broom handle and punched the ceiling every time the Cat started again. She did this until her husband came in from Coon Hunting. She told him, and her husband, Hugh Passmore got the dogs and treed that sucker not too far from the house. One of the men with Hugh shot it out—it was a mama Panther. …Ken

  • Reply
    Annie
    July 11, 2020 at 12:10 pm

    Porch, the in between place. It could be a ship in between the ocean and the mountains. It was the safe base in a game of tag, or hide and go seek. It was a great stage in a theatrical performance using old curtains or what even you could sneak out of the house. Broomhandle pirate swords with pot lid shields. Jumping off the railing, that was now an airoplane high in the sky. The summer night camp outs when it was too hot indoors. My favorite place to be in a thunderstorm. Every house should have a nice big poorch. ( airoplane = airplane in the1950s country)

  • Reply
    Dee
    July 11, 2020 at 10:45 am

    I remember so well my grandparents porch. There was always a slight cooling breeze that wafted across us as we sat rocking, talking, waving and breaking beans in 100 + heat waves. I remember going down to visit my grandparents with my parents after I graduated from high school. My grandparents grew up without electricity, so even though they had it later they still went to bed at dark and got up at first light. I just did as they did but I remember the first morning, I could hear my daddy and my grandparents talking very softly way back in the kitchen. I just thought that was a beautiful sound and snuggled down in my bed. Later when I mentioned that to one of my Aunts, she said well honey you felt that special feeling of being safe and loved. I guess she summed it up.

  • Reply
    PinnacleCreek
    July 11, 2020 at 10:29 am

    Thank you, Jim Casada, for taking us back to the glory days of the front porch. I have a long front porch, and the last time it was used was when the family reunion folks headed out there when they stopped by. We did a lot of laughing and videoing, but then I left it forgotten until the next time a group of kinfolk stop by. Come to think of it with the advent of FB and telephone, there is becoming less need for a good ole fun lovin’ get together. Central air has not helped either, because folks have become too accustomed to being totally comfortable, and they wilt like a flower when exposed to anything above 80 F. The only good thing Covid did was chase some outside for the first time.

    We grew up on the porch, because children were not allowed inside underfoot., especially when visiting. We strung all our beans on the porch. Mom did her ironing on that cool porch. There were no mud rooms. so the porch caught muddy shoes, wet umbrellas, and offered shelter for our pets. Grandpa’s porch had two swings, usually loaded to maximum + with kids.
    I enjoyed Miss Cindy’s clock post. I miss those loud ticking clocks almost as much as the porch. I had frequent power outages at one time, so I kept one with alarm for many years to use so I would not be late for work.

  • Reply
    Wanda Devers
    July 11, 2020 at 10:18 am

    Mama usually sat in the porch swing as dark approached–she always said it was her favorite time of day. She had never been a cat lover but my brother tamed a feral tuxedo cat and he’d come and join her & she began to love him–kept a brush for him out there.

    I have a picture of Granny and Granddpa on their front porch shelling beans. And that was the place my aunt gave me the home perm that resulted in disaster!

  • Reply
    Margie Goldstein
    July 11, 2020 at 10:12 am

    As I read that I laughed, got a tear or two, felt sad and realized I had jumped into the WAY BACK MACHINE….before I realized what great writing had hit me in the head and heart. My porches have a lot to do with why I bought my home. My front porch overlooks East River Mountain and I tell you it’s a strange and mysterious mountain where creepy things have happened all through the years. I just sit there for hours in awe of my surroundings. My back porch faces a terrace. Half is covered. I can tan ( actually disinfect the body and heal the mind), sit in my little pool or just relax while watching my water feature. I stay out every season. In winter I wrap up and sit out. I’m a certified PORCH DWELLER! I’ve seen woodpeckers a foot tall, a lone hen turkey, 6 deer, coons, a possum, a raggedy coyote.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    July 11, 2020 at 8:56 am

    Amen. I think porches are a southern thing, though they have different names across the south. To me, a house without a porch looks ‘flat-faced’, just something wrong with it. To my mind there should also be at least a front and back porch with the front porch more for visiting and the back porch a mud ‘room’ and extension of the kitchen.

    At our house, growing up, the front porch had the swing. Us kids hung out there when we got a good chance. The back porch was screened and had a table where we ate sometimes. Mostly though it was full of vegetables in summer. The top of the knee wall was lined with tomatoes getting riper. That was also where the big chest freezer was. Down at Grandma’s she only had a front porch and it was half of the summer kitchen where the stringing, breaking, peeling, slicing, etc happened. Then all the scraps went to the chicken lot and the chickens came running because no sprig of green had a chance inside the fence.

    For myself I have decided a porch beats a deck all to pieces.

  • Reply
    Don Casada
    July 11, 2020 at 8:25 am

    The porch Jim refers to is what we called the front porch. It faced toward town and 96 concrete steps carved into ten flights of seven steps, one flight of eight and one flight of sixteen, plus two more near one of the two big oak trees in the front yard.

    Except for us kids and our friends, almost no one except Granpa came up to the house by those steps. But I suspect they were put there when the house was built in 1890.

    Porches often change with time. When we were growing up, the front porch, which was about 8 ft deep by 15 feet long, had a pair of turned poplar wood columns, painted white like the rest of the house, supporting the roof which had been manufactured by Bryson City Pump Works, which started producing them in 1903. Spans of painted 2×4 railings spanned the gaps between them (the porch is a bit over 6 ft above ground). The porch floor was tongue and grooved pine. Both the columns and flooring rotted from the effects of rain and time.

    While Daddy was still living, I replaced the floor and columns with treated lumber and screened it in. During the time I spent here with him the last four years of his life, we often had dinner out there, and it was also a place which would put him in story-telling mode, although we often just sat there in silence and enjoyed looking across town to the Alarka mountains.

    Today, that porch may get used more than it ever did. My wife Susan resorts to it virtually every day when the weather isn’t too cold. Even when it’s a little chilly, she’ll sit out there with a winter coat on reading and meditating.

    There was another, L-shaped porch, the back porch, which unlike the front porch, was screened. One of these days, I ought tell you about the back porch, including the time when Jim punched a hole in it, and how it figured into the only time I ever spoke harshly to Daddy.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    July 11, 2020 at 7:07 am

    I well remember the porch at my grandmother. They sat there most evenings in the warm weather. There was always something in their hands, something they were working on. There was string and breaking beans, pealing apples, sewing and such. There was also lots of conversation about the days work, tomorrows work or any of a hundred or so different topics…including local gossip.
    It always seemed to me to be a magical place there till my Grandmother announced it was bedtime. They always went to bed at dark, always! I was not accustomed to going to bed at dark but that is what they did so that is what I did. I would lay in the bed and listen to my grandmothers clock tick in the next room. It was one of those big old wind up alarm clocks that ticked so loud you could hear it all over the house in the stillness of night.
    That was certainly a different time from now!

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