Random Sunday: The Porch

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.

  • Disteza says:

    See, now you’ve gone and made me all sad–my grandmother’s house had both a veranda and a side porch, along with a couple of screened in sleeping porches on the upper levels. That is, until she sold it, and it got knocked down to be replaced by five crappy McMansions. I don’t think any of them even have porches. I bemoan the loss of that house and its memories; the worst part being that I can’t ever take my husband to show him what large chunks of my childhood looked like. Sigh :-< I'll stop wallowing long enough to point out that I spent my weekend engaged in that other time-honored hot weather activity: washing the family cars. Only took the whole blasted weekend to get them both clean, but it will take at least a month to get my nails back into shape!

  • Lee says:

    March in elegaic mode = perfection.

    :[email protected]};-

  • tmp00 says:

    Ah porches- my parents house had two, a front one that wasn’t screened (historic facade) and a side one, unscreened because there was no roof. You couldn’t use them at dusk without a ton of OFF, but they were great. People really would visit from their porches.

    We don’t have that in BH, people would no more be sitting out on their front porch than they would, I don’t know what.

    I would loooove to have a sleeping porch; I house sat for friends in the Hollywood Hills for two months and would sleep on one of the balconies for most of the night. Heavenly…

    • March says:

      Um, I sleep on our porch a lot. It’s on the back, I figure nobody will know. Except all of you now. Heh. :”> And I’ve gone to a couple other houses with sleeping porches and said, wow, you should use that thing! And they all look at me like I am insane. You know, that’s why God gave us A/C. But it’s nice, it’s like camping without the camping part.

  • rosarita says:

    I love this post and I love your porch picture! I used it as my screen saver after you posted it last summer…

    My new-to-us very old little bungalow has a fabulous front porch and I haven’t been inside since we’ve moved. It’s a 4 season (has an air return for heat in winter), is all knotty pine with a bamboo tile ceiling and a dark green carpet. Old windows with rolled bamboo shades and old fashioned alumunium awnings on the outside. The house sits up from the street on a little hill, with a rock wall and steps leading up to the front door, so we can see out but no one can see in. Last night, my husband and I sat out till dark in the 75 degree shaded breeze, drinking Heineken and smelling the peonies from the neighbor’s yard; sheer bliss. Thanks for giving me an opportunity to describe it! My recent summer acquisition of Les Rosine Une Zest de Rose is the perfect porch reading perfume. @};-

    • March says:

      I love your description! It sounds like it would be lovely in summer but cozy in winter as well, and it’s fun to be able to sit there privately and watch the world go by … and I think your choice for a porch reading perfume is perfect.

  • Shelley says:

    I love porches. Grew up with them in Michigan…including the large, wood “picture of a porch” running the width of the bungalow-style house we ended up living most of my childhood in. That porch saw lots of lemonade, laughter, and sleep-outs…and most notably, three days of the entire family living on it with sleeping bags and coolers after what was called “the pea green storm.” Scores of old trees throughout the neighborhood were knocked down, the street was impassable for 36 hours, we had no power for 2 1/2 days–and we had lots of good conversation with each other and our neighbors, on that porch.

    My previous (and first) adult, owned home was a 100+ year old “builder’s model”–a kind of Victorian/American 4-square amalgamation which came complete with tumbling front porch. That first version charmed me into the house, though it made the neighbors call it “The Addams Family House.” #-o I loved it, though, and we used it until it was unsafe at any sitting. Invested a fair amount of $$ into a thoughtfully restored, somewhat redesigned beauty with the best of the old details, including solid cedar columns that I planted climbing roses and other fun stuff around. Oh, and the “master bedroom” was a converted sleeping porch in the rear of the second floor.

    Of course, we ended up moving before plantings reached their full glory. (Time to switch the Guerlain to Apres l’Ondee for a moment, in memorium to the porch, boo-hoo.)

    Now I’m in the ‘burbs, with a decent size slab of concrete in front of the split level, and a large sunken patio in the rear. After bemoaning the lack of porch charm, I got started planting (what’s the right scent for a spunky attitude and a connection to the earth? ). The front “porch” has plenty of room for pots o’ plants and chairs; the patio is surrounded by a groovy rock garden which I am extending into deeper beds up top. No longer depressed over the missing porch…though I will always love them, and am so glad to connect vicariously through the posts of others. :d/

    After stripping a bed of the rampant overgrowth of goat weed and restarting with new plants and divisions, I am currently testing some Eau de Patou, because I read a description of it that said it could be a good summer scent. (Yeah, I went ahead and showered off the garden gunk first.) There’s an interesting sharp something lingering on the Patou spot…

    Eau de Fleur de Cedrat? I am intrigued…must go investigate…

    • Musette says:

      Took a ride out to the Mississippi this afternoon – I’d forgotten how relaxing it is to ride alone…… I spritzed on some Jardin sur le M for the ride and well…. I can’t love a fig quite that much in this extreme heat and sun…so I took a gamble, figuring M. JCE couldn’t have strayed that far off course, and spritzed Jardin sur le N on. Muuuuch better. Of course, it was pretty much moot after 20 minutes – the whole thing was gone.

      But now I’m back to shower, sit on my front porch with my boys and read a book. I think I will wear A de Colonia’s Arancia – it’s about 900 degrees here and I need something sharp and citrusy, even if I’m just going to be slouching around, drinking lemonade.

    • March says:

      Those slanting porches! Love those … our next door neighbor has a tilt-o-porch, you have to position his wheelchair just right or he goes off to the side. And look at all your adventures.

      Hey, it sounds like you have the right attitude for your outdoor area. You’ve just got to show it the love it needs to turn into a green paradise. (And yes — so sad to leave the plants behind…) I’d not heard that about the Patou, that’s an interesting idea.

      Fleurs de Cedrat is a wonderful summery citrus thing, with bergamot, lemon and citron I think. You can get it in the bee bottles now, but mine is an ugly dusty vintage and I’d never seen it before.

  • Musette says:

    March,

    What a beautiful porch and what a beautiful post! I’m so glad you enjoy a blessed life with El C and the kids, on the beautiful porch. My former home had a porch similar to your current one but our porch here is in the front of the house and sounds much like your dad’s – there’s a high hedge across a 5’x20′ slab and it provides a nice, green screen….beyond that is my neighbor’s huge expanse of lawn and a gorgeous maple tree. Nice for coffee in the morning and dinner in the evening, watching the fireflies and listening to the horses whicker in the distance.

    Best of all, though, are the cardinals who come every day to eat the bird seed I scatter all over the rickety plastic table . There’s this iron candleholder ‘tree’ that sits there and all the birds in the neighborhood use it as an ad hoc tree – I sit here all day, working away, and look at them hanging out and chowing down.

    xo

    ps. Why I need to Pay Attention, Part One: for a hot minute I thought you cleaned off your porch with Guerlain=))

    …ummmm…you did mean you wore it while cleaning, right?

    • March says:

      Absolutely — “Guerlain makes a great porch stripper” — you didn’t see their ads on Home Shopping Network? 😉

      Correct, the fragrance is on ME. Although at this point I think I mostly smell like bleach and liniment…

      Your porch sounds magnificent! Our houses are fairly close together. That kind of privacy would be lovely… although there’s also something to be said for being able to converse with passersby.

  • minette says:

    wonderful porch, wonderful life! a porch like that and trips to a lake, beach or spring are the ways to handle the southern heat. your story reminded me of childhood days in florida and visits to family in new jersey. i miss the lightning bugs.

    you can still see the sleeping porches on the older houses – a necessary vestige from the days before a/c. one of my sorority houses in florida still used one!

    • March says:

      Yup, sleeping porches. A lot of the older houses around here had them, on the second story, usually in the back (privacy.) Some people have enclosed them over the years, or weatherproofed them, but they’re pretty easy to spot.

      The whole porch thing as a topic fascinates me. They go in and out of fashion. Lots of houses around here had their front porches *removed* decades ago to let more light into the living room and lose the maintenance. Now people are adding them back on, and it’s great — like having a missing nose back on the face. The ones that drive me crazy are McPorches — on the front of McMansions, and they are too narrow to really use. You see two teeny chairs out there and think, wow, where’s the rest of it? It’s all indoors…

  • Suzanne says:

    March, I’m so envious of your gorgeous porch. It reminds me of my grandmother’s back porch, though hers was right at garden level as it was an extension of her summer kitchen (a kitchen in the basement, which many old houses used to have, for keeping the heat out of the house during the summer months).

    I use my carport as a porch; just finished doing my scrub down and set up last weekend. It’s time for summer, at last!

    • March says:

      Our last house had a carport we used as a porch! In fact I miss the carport — it was so great when it snowed not to have to scrape the car off…

  • Gretchen says:

    Oh, what a lovely post! It almost makes me WANT to live in that humid Southern climate. But since I’m a Californian, I spend the warm months mainly on the (shaded in part) patio, retreating indoors only on the hottest days. What are some good perfumes for hot, dry, western weather? California’s rather arid, of course, plus I love to visit a friend in Santa Fe– REALLY dry and high-altitude to boot! Suggestions?

    • March says:

      We lived in Santa Fe for ten years and I miss it desperately — in fact, I almost added a paragraph to the post about how great outdoor living was in the desert, but that it left me missing the humidity and stillness sometimes… man, I miss Santa Fe, though. I loved the food there.

      One thing I loved about the hot, dry climate (that got cool in the evenings) was I felt like I could wear spicy orientals like Coco all summer with impunity — stuff that would gag a horse in July around here. Things like Andy Tauer’s fragrances would be perfect. I did have to be more sensitive, though, to people who felt like any whiff of fragrance was a violation of their personal airspace.

      • Gretchen says:

        Thank you, what a good idea! I’d been thinking of green scents, but spicy and/or incense types sound much more interesting, especially in the desert. (Keep California green!)
        Santa Fe is wonderful. I can barely go a year without visiting my friends. I do sympathize with your missing it!