My growing-up street had mostly one and two family houses, all boasting open front porches. Sometimes we called them piazzas, too.
From our living room door, we walked out to our special gathering space. It was open to the air on three sides and was where we spent hot afternoons or rainy days reading, coloring, singing, playing games and having fun. There was shelter there, yet we never missed a trick of what was happening on our street. Neighbors going back and forth in their daily activities were greeted, or quietly observed. So few owned cars then that walking to the store, church, or the bus was a necessity.
After supper, in the twilight, we reconvened on the porch stairs and played games. One was “Truth, Consequence, Dare or Repeat”. This involved silly or embarrassing questions which you must answer truthfully, or suffer a challenge, thought up by the leader. It often resulted in much laughter and noisy protests. We also played “Knock Knock” and “Twenty Questions” among others. On rainy days we pulled ourselves up from the steps where there was an old couch near the back wall, and an old kitchen chair. More could be brought out as needed. It would not be unusual to see groups of kids lined up on the railing calling to others.
This was the spot for refreshments such as lemonade, or pseudo picnic lunches on rainy days. It kept us out of the house, especially if my mother was busy sewing. We also played card games such as “War”, or “Slap Jack” on the porch floor. It was the perfect spot for a “Checkers” games and also space to spread my paper dolls.
One Fourth of July we were seated on the steps having fun lighting and waving our sparklers. Someone on the step up from my sister Catherine attempted to light her sparkler from another one. A spark caught the back of Catherine’s dress, which went up in flames. As she started to run, my mother grabbed a throw rug from the railing and smothered the fire. There was a serious burn on her back which could have been worse except for my mother’s quick reaction.
On hot nights the porches provided a respite from the heat in the house. Sometimes, we could hear neighbors’ radios as they were brought out for entertainment. Or, adults just sat and visited quietly with each other. On Sunday afternoons, we heard baseball games on the airwaves. Once I was visiting a cousin’s house and we joined my uncle on their darkened porch as we listened to a live radio broadcast of a Joe Lewis prizefight. My uncle promised to share his jar of pickled pig’s feet if Lewis won. And he did. Then we all enjoyed the special treat.
One year when my young sister Betty was sick and confined to bed, a chaise lounge (a gift from an aunt) was wheeled onto the porch. This allowed her to be part of the neighborhood even though she couldn’t run and play with the others.
Those lucky enough to have screened-in porches used them as extra sleeping space in good weather. This extension of living area was a welcome relief, almost like camping out.
Once, when we were young teens, my mother had gone downtown, and it was getting dark on a late summer day. We wanted to stay out, yet needed light. We devised a red blouse as a cover for the overhead fixture. As Mom came down the street, she spied the red light and hurried before gossip started in the neighborhood. My mother was always conscious of her role of a widow with five daughters, and this was not the image she wanted. What did we know?
Catherine and I were probably 4 and 5-years-old at the time when our back porch witnessed some interesting childhood events. With a pair of scissors, probably the blunt children’s type, I cut my sister’s hair for her. My mother was not pleased. Then Catherine in turn painted the boards in different colors with her paint set. And that didn’t please my mother or father either. Evidently these were times when our quietness should have been checked on more quickly.
This small space of neither in nor out was a great place to say goodnight to your boyfriend. Yet, we were never allowed to linger out there for too long, or my mother would be calling us to come in. Such was life, and it was good.
Evidently I have more recollections of different porches with events and activities to cover one article. Sometime, I’ll tell you the rest of the story.
Jane D. O’Donoghue is a Hungry Hill native and retired school librarian, In addition to being a regular columnist for Prime until 2016, her writing has appeared in local and regional publications.