steps or stairs

After reading Sallie’s guest post my mind begin studying on the subject of steps.

First I wondered if I called them steps or stairs. I think I almost always say steps as in the basement steps or the porch steps, but I’m not positive.

I thought of the steps Pap built. The ones that lead to the basement in his house are built with rough sawn lumber with the rough edges still visible. Or at least they were visible until Granny went on a cleaning spree one time and painted everything in the unfinished basement white.

I remember other houses Pap built when I was young having those same rough sawn lumber steps, I don’t guess they’d pass building codes today.

A set of steps is a tricky thing to build. There’s all sorts of angles to think about. It makes my brain hurt just thinking about the engineering it takes to build a set of steps that are easy to walk up and are inline with the opening at the top and the space at the bottom. The Deer Hunter is really good at getting it right when building wooden steps, because Pap taught him.

Funny one set of steps that came to my mind didn’t even exist.

For my entire time of living at Pap and Granny’s their backdoor (which only Granny calls the front door) opened to a drop of about four or five feet. Pap never got around to building the steps when he first built the house because Granny wanted a porch and at the time they were out of money.

I was married before Granny got her porch.

She used to tease me and say her front porch was in my mouth—meaning she paid for my braces instead of her porch. It wasn’t just my braces that stopped her from getting the porch. There was never much money and always something that needed fixing or paying for.

Probably my favorite steps were the ones around the old Martins Creek School. There were four entrances to the big building, two on each side. Some of them, I think all but one set, had flat pieces of concrete on the tops of the columns that supported the steps. Those flat places made the perfect location for kids to congregate.

There was one more set of steps at the school that led from the road down to the lunchroom, kindergarten, and first grade building. Since the big building burned several years ago this is the only set left today.

I spent hours on the various steps at Martins Creek School, talking, goofing, sliding down the hand rails, and playing games. I don’t remember the one Sallie mentioned but we played Mother May I and Simon Says on steps and probably other games I’ve forgotten. The steps in the back of the building made a good resting place when we were having marathon jump rope sessions.

Have you ever heard of people who count steps? I noticed Chitter’s propensity for counting steps when she was fairly young. Chatter counted people’s words, but that’s a story for another day.

As I was writing this post I yelled and asked Chitter if she knew how many steps were on the porch she yelled back “There’s 13 porch steps, 12 basement steps, and 10 steps in the yard.”

Back when I was still working at the college a colleague was talking about a set of steps on campus and the security guard was standing nearby. He said I can’t tell you exactly how long they are but there’s 30 of them. We said “How do you know that?” He said “I count steps,” and then went on to tell the number of steps in various other locations on campus. Until then I thought Chitter was the only step counter in the world 🙂

I learned something about myself and steps after I started working at the Folk School.

My office is on the second floor and the bathroom is on the first floor. Along with arriving, leaving, and going to lunch all that =s a lot of going up and down.

One of the ladies next door said she could always tell it was me coming up the steps because I ran up them. I thought I do? I started paying attention and realized it is much easier for me to go quickly up a set of steps than it is to go slowly so that’s what I do without even thinking. While I feel like I might fall if I go slow Chitter says if she tries to go fast she feels like she might fall. All that is neither here nor there, but it is interesting to study on how unique us humans and our peculiarities are, even when we’re mother and daughter.


Subscribe for FREE and get a daily dose of Appalachia in your inbox

You Might Also Like


  • Reply
    July 24, 2020 at 1:56 pm

    Many years ago we had to study stair building. Most of which has long been forgotten. One thing I do remember is the instructor saying that our mind will anticipate our going up and down steps in as little as the first three steps. So the importance of having an equal rise and run of all the steps will keep a person from stumbling. Which brought to mind my Grandpa’s old basement steps. The one at the bottom at a shorter rise, so when going down stairs. There was a sudden stop. lol

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    July 24, 2020 at 1:47 pm

    I just got back in from picking beans. Like Chitter I too am a counter. I don’t normally count beans as I pick them but after reading your post this morning I couldn’t help it. I picked 209 beans and 7 cucumbers. I killed 12 Japanese beetles and encountered 1 fence lizard. The bumblebees and honeybees wouldn’t hold still long enough but none of them stung me. I tried not to disturb Mr. Lizard because he was probably there eating Japanese beetles. I hope he brings his whole family for a picnic!

    • Reply
      July 24, 2020 at 3:18 pm

      Ed-I can’t wait to tell Chitter you counted 🙂

  • Reply
    July 24, 2020 at 1:23 pm

    another topic to set the mind to spinning:
    – for our family, usually “stairs” were inside and “steps” were outside unless there were more than 8 or 9 “steps” outside then then might be called “stairs” especially if they went up a whole story.
    – my Kansas Grandma’s stairs to the attic were very narrow and very steep (and, to me from the flat country of south Texas, very scary!) but they led to our beds which, in the winter, were warmed by the stove pipe that came up through the attic from the coal stove in the living room down below.
    – I had a bad fall after giving birth to my first child and before I knew I was pregnant with my second. Had a lot of trouble with my right leg after that and found out I was pregnant again when the doctor ran a pregnancy test before they would take any x-rays – which they didn’t do – number 2 was on the way. Problem was, we lived in a 2 story house – with an infant on the arm, a baby in the tummy, and an unreliable leg, I took up “ka-wumping”. Although the ontomatopeoia is more applicable on the way down than on the way up, I went up and down stairs on my bottom, easing from one step to another with babe, (laundry, etc) in my lap. When number 3 came along or whenever my leg acted up, I took up “ka-wumping” again. With 3 in 3 1/2 years, we were quite a sight! Going up the older 2 were either on my lap during the 3rd pregnancy or crawling up beside me; going down the older 2 were usually behind me, giggling delightedly – ka-wump-wump-wump. . . .
    – my leg (even after 2 surgeries) can be a nuisance sometimes so we specifically put in 4″ steps from the house to the front drive and have 4″ steps into the house – most of the time, I can handle those; the steps in the garden area are large flat stones but, again are only 4″ thick so I can move about as I please – most of the time.
    – I was surprised no one has yet mentioned the “stoop” – steps, porch, stoop, landing – whatever you call it, what a great place to visit, make ice cream, eat popsicles or watermelon, or enjoy a cool glass of lemonade, ice tea, or soda pop – ooooh – I’m hankering for a Grapette or a Root Beer!!!

    • Reply
      July 24, 2020 at 3:19 pm

      Tamela-wow you are one determined lady 🙂 But I sort of already figured that out from your comments over the years!

  • Reply
    Brenda Moore
    July 24, 2020 at 1:20 pm

    “There’s 13 porch steps, 12 basement steps, and 10 steps in the yard.” Had to chuckle at that! I count steps. Because I know how many steps are there, I can go up and down them with my hands full and in pitch darkness and not trip.
    I also count how many swallows to drink a full glass of water in one sitting. Weird. I don’t know why I do that.

    • Reply
      July 24, 2020 at 3:19 pm

      Brenda-I will tell Chitter she is in good company with her counting!

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    July 24, 2020 at 11:55 am

    I was in New York and Washington in the eleventh or twelved grade in the late 60’s for about a week. And while I never saw so many people. We went up into the Empire State Building and back then, we took the Elevators. ( It had 78. ) When we got to the top and looked off, people were no bigger than a match stem, and the city was as far as you could see. I got to see Gene Rayburn and lots of other Stars at the Radio City Hall while in New York.

    We took a Ferry Boat up the Hudson to Stanton Island to see The Statue of Liberty that France gave us. It was over 900 steps to the top and that just Pleased us Mountain Boys. I hadn’t ever been anywhere before, hardly out of the County. The Statue of Liberty had an Elevator to the top, so us Boys decided to take the stairs. About half-way up, some had to rest, but most made it to the top. …Ken

  • Reply
    July 24, 2020 at 11:53 am

    I think steps makes a porch look so much better and of course to get up easier.

  • Reply
    Melissa P. (Misplaced Southerner)
    July 24, 2020 at 10:55 am

    I have both steps and stairs! Our front porch has steps as does our deck out back. We have stairs to the basement and stairs to the “upstairs” (second floor). Can’t explain why other than there are only a couple of steps to the porch and the deck, but there are 14 stairs to go up and down (oh, and a “landing” in the basement). Just have always thought of stairs as being longer, I guess.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    July 24, 2020 at 10:46 am

    Come to think of it, running up stairs is a mountain raised kind of thing. We learn early on that it is easier to run up a mountain than walk up. It’s all about momentum. Once you get your body weight moving it is easier to keep it moving than the stop-and-go that climbing entails.

  • Reply
    Ed Karshner
    July 24, 2020 at 10:04 am

    Now my mind is blown. I hadn’t really dwelled on steps/stairs. But after back to back prodding I’ve realized that I have steps to the front porch and back deck. Steps to the basement. But, we have stairs to the second floor of the house. Oh, Kim just pointed out that once upstairs, you’ll need the attic steps if you want to get up there (you don’t. It’s a mess).

    I can’t think of any rhyme or reason for this. I’m a linguistic mess!

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    July 24, 2020 at 9:59 am

    Speaking of counting someone asked once to count to twenty. I said, “What do you want me to count?”
    “Nothing, just count to twenty!”
    “But I can’t do that!”
    “You’re telling me you can’t count to twenty!”
    “Not without something to count. If you want me to just say the words, I can do that. But, that’s not counting, that’s reciting words!”
    People give me some funny looks sometimes!

  • Reply
    Sallie, the Apple Doll Lady
    July 24, 2020 at 9:31 am

    Boy, Tipper, Did we stir up a pot! I had no idea it would result in such a variety of interesting comments! I enjoyed reading all of them. I am reminded of the stories I heard over several years of soap making and old time laundry demonstrations at events. There are so many common threads to people’s lives but at the same time there are many differences. I now realize that I never really appreciated my heritage until it was shared with others. Thanks for what you do.

  • Reply
    July 24, 2020 at 9:05 am

    It has always amazes me how narrow some of the steps were built back in the day. The one small concrete step that led into my back porch was only about 8″ deep. It was kind of sandy and not a good solid step like we see today. All my grandsons wear size 12 shoes that never fit on the step. I knew it would only be a matter of time before the step became damaged from being hit from heavy boots and shoes. It finally happened during the ice storm of ’09 when a large corner piece broke off. The stairs leading to my second level are also very steep and about 7″ deep. I saw the same narrow stair and step design in other older houses when I was a realtor for many years.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    July 24, 2020 at 8:33 am

    The thing I notice about you and your daughters is that you are all three a lot alike and at the same time very different!
    I’ve never given steps much thought. I think I sometimes call them steps and some times I call them stairs. I think I am more likely to call them stairs if they are in the house…like the beds are upstairs and the car is parked downstairs in the basement. Then it’s up the steps to go into the school or church and it’s up the steps to go into the courthouse.
    There are probably some other examples but I’ll have to think on it!

  • Reply
    July 24, 2020 at 8:28 am

    I remember running up steps like they were nothing. Those simple steps that go unnoticed by all until you decide to write a wonderful post about them. You would have made an excellent teacher, Tipper. You prompt folks to think, and some of the time it is about things they never even really thought about. It seems like steps used to be made wider back in the day. Our high school had really wide steps. A particularly wonderful memory is sitting with a bunch of other young people on the wide steps of the country store my Mom ran when we were teens.

    Perhaps I am a bit like Granny, because I spent hours painting the steps to the basement gray, then because of the wear I added polyurethane coats. Makes them easy to clean. Other than that had not thought about steps for years, except when some enterprising young carpenter had rigged them up wrong. at a house I visited. The set I used to walk up and down at that house were just made wrong, and I always had the distinct feeling of tipping forward on them. No hand rail either! Yes, there needs to be skill in making proper steps. In Appalachia we have a lot of “jack of all trades” and sometimes a great mechanic is not a god carpenter, but they will give her a whirl anyway. An unskilled plumber may be the worst! By far my worst experience was on occasion we were required to flush narcotics in the home, and one particular home had a new commode installed that would not flush. That was a real fun hour and a half.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    July 24, 2020 at 8:27 am

    You remind me of old Worley, the coal camp my Mom was born in. There was (still must be?) a set of steps up and down the slope from the railroad at the bottom to the church door at the top. The old camp is gone and I expect the steps are all drifted over in leaves and invisible now. But I would like to have a picture of them. It would be an allegory.

    I counted steps to when I was young. We lived on the fourth floor when I was in the sixth grade and I used to know how many steps that was. I forget now except that it was somewhere around 90. (My Dad once carried a refrigerator on his back from top to bottom without stopping.) About step counting, I think it is a very useful habit to be a noticing sort of person no matter what the things noticed are. It is just good mental discipline.

    My old grade school was a WPA building made of native sandstone. Out front there were two sets of wide steps leading up from the gravel parking area then three or four more steps at each of the two sets of double doors. As you say, a good place to congregate. The last I knew the building sat empty.

    One last thing about steps; I get really aggravated at steps with little four or six inch high risers. The little mincing steps just feel so very wrong. They feel like walking in a dense crowd where you just can’t get going. I guess that is my country showing. Give me some leg room.

  • Reply
    July 24, 2020 at 6:55 am

    Now you’ve got me thinking! I call them “stairs” if they are inside a building, but “steps” if they are outside. Used to be able to take two at a time going up. Nowadays I reach for the handrail to assist. Also remember my Aunt Kitty, who was afraid of heights, always went down the stairs backward. A last random thought: There’s a reason why it’s a Stairway to Heaven, but a Highway to Hell.

  • Reply
    July 24, 2020 at 6:22 am

    Hmm, could turn into an interesting study, not a stair counter myself.

  • Leave a Reply