My porch is built of cement and rocks pulled from the farm fields. With the shade from the trees in the front yard and the breeze that sails over the hill, it’s a perfect spot on a hot summer day. So today I made it my home, sitting in a pair of white wooden rockers – one for my rump and one for my feet, a bit of classic literature in my lap. It was definitely a good day to practice the art of porch sittin’.
I never really thought about the art of porch sitting until I went to Kentucky – where porch-sittin’ became a common verb. Definition: A good place and time to take a break and have a chat, preferably in the morning right before the work day begins – or maybe on a lazy Saturday afternoon.
Porch sittin’ is well practiced at Camp AJ, where Miss. Connie sits with a mug of coffee in the off season, ready to have a good gossip with the year-round camp staff; or in the summer when handfuls of happily exhausted counselors lounge about on the lodge porch. They sit amongst the piles of drying clothes hanging wherever there’s a space and eat bowls of cereal while the inevitable stray cat or dog sits at their feet, waiting for them to drop something. They make friendship bracelets and talk about everything under the sun. The porch is Where It’s At.
The good people of Kentucky taught me that porch sittin’ doesn’t always have to happen on a porch, either. It’s the spirit of the thing that counts. Sometimes it can happen in an office, munching on Op-Share chocolate and tortilla chips and shooting the bull with whoever happens to be around.
The first time I came to Kentucky, I didn’t really understand this strange southern habit. If you were to sift through my old blogs all the way back to when I first arrived in that foreign clime, you will find musings like “…they always say that they’re busy – but they never really seem to be that busy…” (referring to the fact that, no matter how much they have on their agenda, it doesn’t seem to bother them at all to take an hour or so out of their work day just to chat). My northern self didn’t get it. I would sit during some chit-chat sessions in frustration, thinking about how much work I could be getting done right then.
Fast forward four years to a new Kentucky stint. If my work day started without a porch sittin’ (er…office sittin’) session, I couldn’t help feeling like I was getting gypped – like the day had lost an important bit of flavor. The porch at Camp AJ was a necessary hangout on the weekends during camp and Workfest, and if I didn’t spend a goodly amount of time there I knew I was going to be missing out. Whenever I drove by a house and saw people sitting on their porch I saluted them with a jubilant proclamation of “PORCH SITTIN’!” spoken in a sing-songy voice. In short, it took a while, but this northern girl officially embraced the southern art of porch sitting.
Of course, we have porches up north, too. And we know how to use ’em. This Michigan porch now – this handmade stone beauty with the rockers and the swing and the sailing breeze and the gorgeous view – I grew up with this porch.
The wall that faces the pasture was my rock climbing wall. I would find the rocks with the best grip holds for little fingers and toes and would scale the side of the wall, scratching up my arms as I pulled myself across the top. My older self sometimes gets the urge to porch-rock climb again, but (Sigh) I’m too tall now for it to be anywhere near as much fun.
The porch wall that faces the beech tree was a center of competition. A leaping competition. A who-can-leap-the-farthest-and-grab-the-most-beech-nuts-off-the-beech-tree competition. The competitors: Me and my brothers. The challenge? Stand on top of the porch wall, leap over the bushes, grab the branches of the beech tree on the way down, land gracefully (or not-so-gracefully) and count out how many beech nuts we managed to strip from the tree. The prizes? A handful of beech nuts to be picked apart and bragged over. Yup. Porches weren’t just for sitting. They were also for adventuring.
But there was plenty of sitting, too. I spent many summer days sitting on the porch swing, listening to whatever CD I happened to have in my Walkman. I would swing as high as the swing would go until my head knocked up against the porch roof – that was when I knew it was time to slow down. Porch swings, however, are not made to be swung that vigorously on a regular basis, as I quickly learned on the day that one of the bolts gave out and the swing flung me across the porch. I landed on my side on the cement, my CD player still clutched in my hands.
My mom ran to the door. “Elizabeth? Are you okay?!”
Stunned, I could only say “I………….don’t…………know.” (For the record books, while a little beat up, I was, in fact, okay).
There was also plenty of the more traditional, southern-style porch sitting. Days when my Grandpa and Grandma would drive up with a bag of papers and sit and chat with us on the porch about this, that, and the other thing. If I wasn’t around, but my barn boots were, Grandpa would slip a ball of paper down into the toe as a signal to me that he had been there (and for the sake of the laugh that I know he got out of imagining my face when I put on my boot, felt something weird, and said to myself “What the heck?”). Of course, they could have come in the house. But why sit in the house when they could sit on this porch – one of the best porches around for miles?
I never really realized it when I was a kid, but now, as an adult, I have to say: those Kentucky folks are right – taking a little time out of the day for a bit of porch sittin’ is good for the soul.
So today, I porch sit.
And I recognize it for what it is –
a beautiful thing.