Today we´re cleaning off the porch. It seemed like the right time – June the first, and the first real day I´ve felt like it was warm enough to want to go sit out there and read.
Any of you all have a porch in a seasonal climate? Then you know about the annual ritual of the spring clean-off. I grew up in a D.C. suburb in a little brick house with no air conditioning, and the porch was the center of our lives in the summer. For any of you with Tara-like delusions of grandeur regarding the word “porch” – y´all are thinking of a … veranda. Heh. Our porch was an 8 by 10-foot slab, with screens we had to repair every year and a door that went to the living room. We ate on the porch at a wood picnic table – my sister and I fighting over the bench, my dad and mom on each end in aluminum folding chairs. When it got hot enough, my dad dragged up the army cots from the basement and we slept on the porch rather than die upstairs. I can still remember those still, close, unbelievably humid summer nights, drowsing in the heat listing to the crickets and night bugs and watching the fireflies dance.
Southern heat is a force to be reckoned with, and you either spend your waning energy despising it, or you learn to love it, or at least live with it, like someone you found yourself married to for decades without quite understanding why. Porches are perfect for all sorts of things – book reading, lounging, napping on the couch. Beer and lemonade taste better in 90-degree heat with your feet up, it´s been scientifically proven. A glass of white wine on the porch in the evening is a fine way to end any day. Your children are more beautiful in the candle-light of a late dinner on the porch. Look, they say, look! There go the lightning bugs!
My sister and I grumbled and whined and fought our way through eighteen years of cleaning off that porch – the sweeping, the bugs, the hose. Now we do it for my dad, who has a new aluminum chair this year (the webbing wore out on the old one) and likes to set a spell out there. He pretty much decamps to the porch in the summer, to read the paper and eat peaches at the picnic table.
My husband is still gone, so this morning I rounded up my bevy of helpers and we divided the duties for cleaning our own porch, which was everything I wanted in a porch as a little girl – wood, raised, with steps to the yard, lattice underneath, tall screens to the roofline, wide and deep enough for a wicker couch and chairs and a table big enough for summer dinners for the six of us, plus maybe some guests. The floor was green with pollen and left footprints when you walked across it. We swept (spider webs, dead flies.) We vacuumed (insect carcasses, birdseed). We scrubbed. We dragged the furniture out on the grass for “an airing” in the sun.
That feeling. Isn´t it funny? The way happiness can bubble up inside you on a hot day like a cold spring you thought had quit running, or at least had gone underground long enough you could no longer remember quite where it is. Sweeping and sneezing and ragging my kids about their lame vacuuming efforts, and watching the twins wash each rock in our sea glass and shell collection in a bucket in the sun, I popped the cap off a Heineken and thought, if I manage to live long enough to be old and feeble and on my deathbed, and someone asks me, do you have any regrets? When were you happiest? I hope my mind can reach back to that day on the porch.
PS Yes, that’s my porch. That’s the photo from last spring, but it looks pretty much the same — except my fragrant Summer Wine climbing roses are twice as big, I’ve got to lash them to the pillars again. And the scent for cleaning off your porch? Guerlain’s delightfully summery Eau de Fleurs de Cedrat.