Steps and Stairs

Today’s guest post was written by Sallie Swor


Reading about porches while sitting on my porch this morning made me think of steps, or as some people call them, stairs.

When I was growing up we had wide stone steps at the front porch. We sat on them and they held pots of flowers in the summer. The stones were picked up off the farm when the 6-room pine log house was built by my dad and his brothers in the early 1930’s. Who knows how many feet went across those steps over the years!

We would sit and listen for expected company to blow their horn as they came down the curvy mountain highway above the house before reaching our “lane”.  Due to trees and being about 1/4 mile off the highway we couldn’t see cars until they were almost to the house.

When we had family in for reunions people sat on the steps to eat. It was a great spot to cut a watermelon that had cooled in the spring water. Rain would wash off the juice.

The steps were common extra seating for front porch crowds.

Another set of steps had to be built in the little dining room of the house as the original plan was just for 4 rooms. After cutting a doorway in the middle of the wall between the living and dining room it was decided to extend the walls for two upstairs bedrooms.

The doorway was made into a book case and the log wall cut for another door to be built near the end of the wall to accommodate a stairway on the opposite side. Being in the dining room it was a perfect place for kids to eat “company” dinner by sitting on the edge, dangling their feet in the faces of those walking around the table (there was no rail so the youngest kids sat on the bottom steps) and setting the plates on the next step up.

We were all right-handed so it was a perfect arrangement. We also had a bird’s eye view of family and friends filling their plates. In the winter the dining room doors were kept closed to conserve the wood heat and at bedtime it was a race up those stairs to unheated rooms for my youngest brother and me. We had electric blankets and took turns into the cold to turn both on and get our pajamas to put on downstairs by the fire.

We heard stories from an older sister and three older brothers about the heavy layers of quilts they had to sleep under before electricity reached our little holler at the foot of the mountain.

One story I grew up hearing was about an older brother who got mad and stomped up the stairs but Daddy made him come back and go up the right way. And the one of a brother who “didn’t hardly hear” daddy call him the first time. But I think our favorite use of both sets of steps as kids was for playing “school”.

This was a simple game Daddy taught us and my grandsons love to play on my porch stairs now. Sometimes my old knees won’t let me sit on the bottom step so I have to start in 1st grade and the kids allow me to just pretend I’m in kindergarten with the others.

Usually the youngest gets to be the first “teacher”. Even though a 3 or 4-yr old wants a 1” rock his hands need about a 1/4” rock so it isn’t detected in his hand. He puts his hands behind him then presents his fists to each “student” sitting on the bottom step in “kindergarten“ one at a time. If the student chooses the hand with the rock (of course it could be anything that’s handy that can be hidden in their hand), he advances up a step or grade. The first student to reach the top, the number of grades depends on the number of steps and I guess mine is a primary school due to only 4-5 steps, gets to be the next teacher.

Two little boys can wear me out playing this game! Granny’s attention span can be a lot shorter than theirs! I have to declare recess or snack time. The older one now has to dance around and takes a while before he presents his fists. Often the youngest wants to play when it’s just the two of us. Although my grandchildren never saw the stairs I played on I hope that someday they will have stairs they can play on with their children and grandchildren.

A funny story I just thought about was once Mother said they heard a car drive up and Daddy went out to talk to a man he was expecting.

Mother went with him after seeing the man’s wife in the truck, too. Many times people came either being lost, being “nosy” or just unexpected- family, friends or strangers.

The man got out and mother followed Daddy down the stone steps, Daddy (just teasing) said.” Hey, that ain’t the woman I saw you with the other day!” Momma had heard the gossip but Daddy, being a stay-at-home farmer, hadn’t heard that the man had been caught with another woman. It was too late when Mamma kicked Daddy and told him to be careful what he said! They laughed later, saying they wondered what happened when the couple got home that day.

Sallie’s post got me to thinking about steps and I took a trip down memory lane studying on the many sets of steps that have been part of my life.


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  • Reply
    August 5, 2021 at 12:25 am

    Great stories and discussion!

  • Reply
    July 23, 2020 at 1:48 pm

    Steps to me are on the outside and stairs on inside. We had steps on our porch. My oldest brother and me would play with his cars under the porch. We made roads. There was an old washing machine on the porch and a wood pile. One time my brother and I were under the porch and he wanted to cut my hair. I said yes as long as get to cut yours. So he agreed. He was cutting mine and momma hollered. Boy did he get in trouble. I didn’t get to cut his. Thank goodness it was just the front. I had long hair. Momma straightening it the best she could.

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    July 23, 2020 at 1:44 pm

    And Sally,
    When I was just a boy, we didn’t have a road up to the house. We depended on the Feist dogs to do our watching from the porch. They saw everything. If a family or someone came to the house, they Parked over at the road. Most people didn’t even have a vehicle then, I was about 12 before we had one. We had a trail leading up to the house. Daddy said when he learned to drive, you didn’t even have to have a license.

    It was a pretty good piece to our house, and Daddy certainly didn’t want to bury one of his boys because of the highway, after all, he had six boys. There wasn’t much traffic back then, sometimes it would be half an hour before one would pass where we lived.

    We didn’t have any steps in our house, only at the porch and kitchen door. Mama had a stroke when I was about a month old and it left her Paralyzed in her left Side. When she was able, she never missed Church and could sing Alto like nobody’s business. (Anna of the Chuck Wagon Gang would’ve been proud. ) …Ken

  • Reply
    July 23, 2020 at 12:55 pm

    At one school I attended there were open stairs to the 2nd floor. Someone noticed that boys were the last to get to class while girls were on time. Administration found out why. The boys stood under or near the steps to watch the girls (short skirts then) climbing the stairs. A sign appeared stating, “Step up the stairs boys, don’t stare up the steps.”

  • Reply
    July 23, 2020 at 10:22 am

    We always called the little road leading to our house a lane. I wondered about that, and back then no way to google. I just decided a lane is much longer than a driveway with no hard top. I well remember the joy of walking out the lane and listening to the birds. On rare occasion could even see a snake. We had cellar steps which were crudely made, and one end of house built on the level while the other end had several steps. Now that I think about it, the homes back then did not seem to have the landscaping, and were built more to conform with the lay of the land. The soil all around was rich from leaving topsoil intact. I liked Mary Johnson’s memory of it not being too hot in WV. In fact that climate will spoil you with its cool nights and gentle breezes blowing a great deal of the time.

    Thank you Sallie Swor for taking something we take for granted and showing what an important role it can play in everyday life.

  • Reply
    Leon Pantenburg
    July 23, 2020 at 10:22 am

    Stairs and steps are really interesting. I’m a volunteer at the Old Court House Museum in Vicksburg, Mississippi, and there is graffiti from the Civil War on the back steps. Here is part of a post about it.

    Who was the soldier who carved graffiti on the step of the Old Court House? We think we might know: his name could have been Private Henry. C Ashbaugh.

    This post about the step graffiti got a lot interest when it was published last week:

    “In this case, this historic graffiti is on the back corner step of the Old Court House, facing the Mississippi River. Apparently, some bored Union infantryman from the 45th Illinois had some time on his hands. He may have been guarding prisoners after the surrender, or was just hanging around.”

    More information came from Chris Salley, who wrote:

    “That is a great piece of history. There was a Private Henry C. Ashbaugh who was in Company H of the 45th Illinois enlisted at Camden, Illinois on December 24, 1861 and he mustered out Mustered out Dec 23, 1864. From what I found, he is the only person in the 45th Illinois with those initials.

    Anyway – thought someone would find this interesting. The post and photo of the step graffiti can be seen on the Old Courthouse Facebook page: The Old Court House Museum.

  • Reply
    Jennifer Locke
    July 23, 2020 at 10:11 am

    I remember sitting on the back steps with my Memaw while she peeled apples and pears for her preserves. I was just a little thing and I would eat them as quick as she peeled them! Such great memories of gathering the apples and pears that had fallen from the trees. Now, avoiding the sting of the yellow jackets as we took away their sweet treats was always a fright for me! Memaw never wanted to see anything go to waste. If there was good parts to be cut off she would do it! Chickens or pigs got the peelings. Nothing better than her golden syrup on one of her hot homemade biscuits!

  • Reply
    aw griff
    July 23, 2020 at 9:52 am

    what i remember most about the house I was raised in was the stairs creaked at night like someone was coming upstairs to my bedroom. It was spooky.
    Anita G.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    July 23, 2020 at 8:53 am

    Reminds me of the cold back bedrooms at my Grandma’s and how we would try to wait each other out to avoid going first. And the heavy quilts. My brother said they would about break your toes. No steps to speak of though, one up onto the porch from the walk, one down from the living room into the dining room, one back up to the bathroom from the bedroom by the dining room. I guess the old house is long gone. I have not been by there in many a year. I’m unsure if I want to go. I know it must look so very different now.

    i had never heard of the school on the stairs game but that is smart. Our grandson sorta went to school on the stairs because his Mom put numbers on the risers so he learned to count.

  • Reply
    Gaye Blaine
    July 23, 2020 at 8:45 am

    Stair steps were inside when I grew up. Plain ole steps were outside. Ladders had rungs to be held onto tightly when going up in the barn loft to play in the hay. Our “front room” had a flat rock used as a step to go inside, same with the smoke house. Ah, memories!!

  • Reply
    Mary Johndon
    July 23, 2020 at 8:30 am

    We had front stairs and back stairs at my grandmother’s house. The front stairs let up two bedrooms where my uncle who had come home from the war Leigh and was Ill. The Back Stairs let up to my grandfather’s room where he made fishing plugs and tied flies. I remember him having Time Magazine stacked almost floor-to-ceiling in that little room. There was no air conditioning of course but I don’t remember it being all that hot in West Virginia. Good memories from my childhood.

  • Reply
    Margie Goldstein
    July 23, 2020 at 8:29 am

    In my 52 year old opinion, stairs are completely overrated! They’re neck breakers, ankle busters, concussion causers and let’s not forget all the pesky “accidental deaths” of folks who fell ( or were helped) to their demises. I’ve broken BOTH feet and my nose on stairs. I can tell you as a RN, there is no telling how many elderly are killed on stairs ( especially to the basement) each year. My best bud Bill fell and lay at the bottom of stairs for over 24 hours. He was carried out and died at the hospital that night. I got one step in a bathroom and one step to my bedroom section of this home and both are cause for great concern. Call me quirky but hopefully you’ll all realize this is serious. I hate a stair….

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    July 23, 2020 at 7:52 am

    I always think of steps as just a few like up to a porch or if a house has two levels like my grampa’s did (the kitchen and bath were added when he was in his 80’s) those two steps were called steps. Going up or down to another floor was called stairs

  • Reply
    Eldonna Ashley
    July 23, 2020 at 6:22 am

    Hmmm. I enjoyed readied this. It got me to thinking. We definitely call them steps if they are outside. We also have 4 steps inside the house after we come in the back door.

    To go from the first floor to the second we used to go up stair steps. The name has evolved, now we call them stairs. Thank you for your story.

  • Reply
    July 23, 2020 at 5:53 am

    Funny I can remember watching for our company to arrive, we would look up the rock road and could see the dust cloud before any vehicle could be seen all from our front porch.

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