February 1, 2023

Between Us – Porching It

Trish Bennett is an award-winning journalist and the former assistant editor of Main Street News.  She holds a master of science degree in journalism and was adjunct professor of media history at Quinnipiac University before relocating Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania.  Her latest work appears in the up-coming volume of “This I Believe: The Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women” slated for publication in association with National Public Radio this Fall.  She can be reached at pwbennett@verizon.net

American poet Robert Frost is famous for—among other things—penning the line, “One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.”

Frost’s lines concern a stand of birches observed in winter, bent down, as those trees tend to be, by snow and ice. It is as if, Frost observes, a small boy had shinnied up the trunk, and, with the bravado of the young, reached the end of the tree, and flung himself, clutching its topmost branches, feet-first into the blue winter sky and “ridden” the tree to the ground.

The image of the birch-swinger is a metaphor for the poet’s on-again, off-again relationship with the world: “It’s when I’m weary of considerations,” he writes, “and life is too much like a pathless wood…I’d like to get away from earth awhile, and then come back to it and begin over.”

Now given the fact that it’s July in New England, as opposed to January, I will make bold to offer a seasonal amendment to Mr. Frost and note that, fine as birches are, one could also do worse than be a sitter of porches.

Bear with me, and I may actually get you to believe that homely, un-“hot” objects like birches and porches can actually be the stuff of meaning, allowing us to revel in life rather than merely regarding it as a conquerable commodity or something to be endured.

Porches are ephemera to many modern home builders and largely to the 21st century mindset in which everything seems to require justification via a specific purpose.

Real porches–and here I exclude so-called “three-season rooms” which are made practicable,  and therefore justifiable, by insulation or infomercial awnings; and “decks” which many times dangle in space supported only by four by fours and which function as a grilling stations and occasionally collapse, sending bratwurst, steaks and grill person into the sump-pump bog some 18 feet below—are, like summer, short-lived, sloth-inducing, and community-inviting.

And to have one, especially a front porch, is to be blessed.

First, porches represent the once-upon-a-time in architecture. A time when folks strolled streets after dinner; a time when neighbors knew their community as faces and names met over day-to-day dealings; a time when social interaction was spontaneous rather than marked on an agenda three weeks in advance.

So once upon a time, after supper, you spied Fred and Mabel over your flower boxes and invited them up to your porch for ice cream and/or gossip.

Porch furniture, likewise, embodies a largely abandoned approach to existence: It does not warm, vibrate or advertise as orthopedically approved. Rather, it rocks, but back-and-forth; it swings, but in the wind.

So once upon a time, Junior de-camped to the porch and poured over Treasure Island, or Pop left the edging until tomorrow and expended his strength willing Ted Williams to first base while downing a lemonade.

“A good porch,” notes writer Garrison Keillor, gets you out of the parlor; lets you smoke, talk loud, eat with your fingers—without apology and without having to run away from home. No wonder that people with porches have hundreds of friends…Me and the missus float back and forth on the swing, Mark and Rhonda are collapsed at opposite ends of the couch. Marlene peruses her paperback novel in which an astounding event is about to occur…the cats lie on the floor listening to birdies, and I say, ‘It’s a heck of a deal, ain’t it, a heck of a deal.’ A golden creamy silence suffuses this happy scene, and only on a porch is it possible.”

As I said, one could do worse than be a sitter of porches.

Happy summer.