Some time back in one of my family-science journals I saw an article on “community.” The gist of the article was that we have, basically, lost community through “busyness of life” and through mobility.
One thing the article said that gave me thought was that air conditioning was one problem, compounded by television, and lack of porches and sidewalks another. Oh, they did not pin the biggest blame on these elements, but I certainly sat up and paid attention that they were mentioned.
According to the authors, there was a day in America when the routine was to come in, have supper, clean up, and go sit on the porch for a while if the weather was good. If you were in the city, you went out to sit on the stoop. Some folks might stroll the sidewalks, visiting with those sitting on their porches as they went. Some might even join their neighbors for a “sit a spell” chat, and everyone could see up and down the street as to what the kids were doing.
In short, folks were more interactive. Nowadays they sit in their air-conditioned houses in front of the TV. The interaction has been curtailed. We have been kept indoors and isolated by the comfort of controlled temperature and the entertainment of the TV. Maybe to the detriment of our community.
Back in the dark ages when V and I were kids, the other thing that enmeshed us in each other’s lives was the fact that our mothers were stay-at-home moms. We’re talking the 50’s, here, and the working mother was an unusual situation in our sphere. It was a habit of our mothers to share iced tea in a back yard, sitting in folding lawn chairs in the afternoon. Really, it was a comforting thing to me as a child to see my mother and V’s, together with Kitty from across the street sitting and chatting. The right word for the feeling, as I look back, really, is “community.”
Just this week I mentioned to the not-yet-thirty lawyer in our office that I had stopped in on my neighbor the other day. The story I was telling her had an entirely different point, but it caused her to remark, “How is it that you drop in on your neighbor? We don’t even talk to ours…” Believe me, this girl is not unfriendly. She would, I imagine, be a great neighbor. But her schedule is such that she rarely has time to interact with neighbors, and certainly she has no porch-sitting to enmesh her life with theirs. And her neighbors are in the same boat.
Out here in the country, almost all of us have porches but, of course, they don’t have the same effect as that described above in bygone airconditionless towns. Still, I think we may have more “community” out here than in many modern housing developments. We seem to be more attuned to the needs of others, for example. And our porches are invitations. Out here it is common to still people sitting on their porches, waving at each car that comes by, whether those folks are actually known by the waver or not.
My lawn-mowing neighbor has taken a job, so she is no longer my lawn girl (lifesaver that she was this summer!). Sad to say, MIL’s front yard area (maybe an acre) was getting longish. Our country mailboxes on the road had some weeds growing up around them. I resolved to get to them on the weekend, but before it came I arrived home one evening to find everything neat and mown.
Our young neighbor had stopped in on MIL, without saying a word he had unloaded his fancy-dancy mower, and was half-way through the job before MIL even knew he was there. He finished up by weed-eating. He will not take money for this. It is the second time he has spontaneously done it, and he seems to be quite happy to do it. We don’t feel criticized by his work—like we’re shiftless, neglects of our yard or anything. He just knows that MIL is there with a recovering hip and cannot do it herself. We sent him goodies in the mail—we are so grateful.
But he is just an example of the way folks help one another out here. It really is a community in a different sort of way, just not as enmeshed, I think, as the porch-and-sidewalk kind.
My home’s hallmark is its porches. They wrap about seventy-five percent of the entire house, and the back porch is twelve-feet deep. It is, really, another entertainment room. This is it, to the left. I’d include better pictures, but it’s not real presentable right now. (Remember my whining post a few days ago about not being able to get to the porch clean up?). Certainly, it is not “decorated.”
But I sat out there last night, and I’d venture to say that my back porch setting has few rivals. It has a sweet kitty and looks out over woods—not a sign of civilization can be seen from my back porch once your sight moves past my fence. In the cool of the evening last night I could hear the forest sounds. It was relaxing and divine—transporting me to a place of relaxation far from the madness of my work.
V and I have in mind a fall “event” involving my porches…we’ll keep you posted on this…if my pink eye clears up. No one wants a hostess with pink eye.
In the meantime, “happy porch sittin’ to you all.” C.