December 16, 2011 § Leave a comment
Excerpted from Reflections of a Porch Sitter by Sandy Richardson
My family has been homeless for almost two years now — that is to say, my extended family has not had access to a central gathering place for the first time in over one hundred and thirty years. Our family home, the home my great, great grandfather built, was sold, depriving us, the grandchildren, of the place we gathered in, the place we knew and loved as home.
The house was a wonderful, rambling Victorian. White, gingerbread trim adorned every inch of eave, porch, and railing that encircled the pale yellow wood-siding, and despite the fact that several years ago, Hurricane Hugo harvested many of the grand oaks and pecan trees, the house continued to reign majestically over the two acres of azaleas, camellias, and daffodils that are so much a part of our southern landscape. We said goodbye to our home soon after Easter that following year, and I am certain the new owners must have discovered our usual supply of un-found eggs tucked into the secret places between the twisted tree roots and beneath the tangled ivy. The lavenders, pinks, and blues of the eggs surely would have faded by then, and only to us, would they have brought smiles of remembrance of the many story-book-perfect Easters of the past.
While remembering, there are of course the summers to recall. Thinking back, I can still hear the plip-plop of raindrops that fell, magnified and echoed by the corrugated tin that covered the roof. Cots for napping lined the huge upstairs hall, and a marvelously cool draft was created by the open double doors to the balcony–so cool in fact, that in spite of the heat outside, we would draw-up soft cotton spreads to cover our bare legs and arms. As we rested there, the rain would plunk out melodies on that roof–melodies hypnotic enough as to be transcendental in effect. I learned the art of meditation early and effortlessly.
Autumn memories are set against a different tune on the roof. Acorns from the oaks surrounding the house pinged and popped in double-time above our heads, creating images of tiny toy soldiers marching on patrol. Afternoons of gathering pecans, the hours on the porch spent shelling them, the smell of hogs’ blood, fire, and hickory, all foretold the gargantuan Thanksgiving feast ahead.
As winter wrapped us in early darkness, the symphony on the roof grew silent. Fireplaces were lit, the smell of burning wood and coal filled the air inside and outside of our family home.
Every nook and cranny became suspected hiding places for Christmas surprises, and garlands of pine and magnolia swathed the doors and stair banister. The scent of cinnamon clung to the very walls of the rooms, and it seemed that someone was always pounding out carols on the old upright piano.
Of course, as with any old house, there were all those little annoyances which weave in and our of our reminisces. That spacious central hall that cooled us in July became a frozen tundra in February. The doors that lined it were closed tight at night, vainly attempting to seal in the feeble heat from the small gas heaters in the bedrooms. We slept in socks and long-johns under three thick quilts, and mornings found us calling for help just to get out of bed. First, the three quilts were peeled back, layer after layer, and then a helping hand was offered to pull us free of the toasty burrows we had dug in the soft feather mattresses.
The “necessaries” were brought inside of the house some sixty years ago. What once appeared as a cavernous dorm-type room at the back of the house was converted to hold them, and while inside plumbing of any kind proved quite a luxury back then, the race down that long, cold hall on winter mornings was, in our day, much less than convenient.
The windows of the house provided additional cares. They operated in only two positions–completely opened or completely closed. Now this worked fine for summer and winter, but fall and spring required that someone be ever mindful of sudden rises and drops in temperature, not to mention sudden wind and rain storms.
The finagling it took to have the darned things cleaned would boggle even the most cunning of minds.
Even those tall ceilings we adored so in summer, prompted further creative approaches to housekeeping. Cobwebs bloomed over night in the upper reaches, and changing light bulbs in the ceiling fixtures was somewhat of an olympic feat– even the bravest among us was subject to vertigo while balancing on a fourteen-foot ladder.
But in spite of the inconveniences, the grand old lady drew us all back to her at least once a month for as long as I can remember. Marriages and births added to our numbers. Deaths were mourned, but they never completely deprive us of our loved ones. Ever inch of that house held reminders. The very essence of who we are was fused with the floors, the walls, the ceilings. Our loved ones might be gone from our midst, but never–no never, was anyone forgotten.
Meals often proved to be culinary extravaganzas. Each branch of the family prepared chosen favorites, so a variety of new and often times exotic dishes arrived to accompany the usual fare of fried chicken, rice, butter beans, and biscuits. There was always something to suit each taste, but seating everyone at the same time provided another challenge altogether. Small tables, chairs, and trays spilled out into the hall, the parlor, and even onto some of the porches, and besides serving as impromptu eating areas, those porches provided five extra sitting rooms in good weather. Usually we would gather in groups according to age, but as the afternoon slipped away, we would eventually make the rounds to all five, and each porch offered its own brand of gossip, news, entertainment, and therapy. It was on those porches that we listened to my grandfather’s stories of the merchant marines, eavesdropped on the adults’ gossiping, studied the stars, cried over our hurts, learned of sex, and eventually, rocked our own babies to sleep.
I look back in amazement at my family–amazed at our vast differences, at our individual uniqueness, at our continuing sameness. I look back also in absolute awe of the love that bound us together in that house, both were the vital components in the structures of our lives and the very foundations of our identities.
Thinking of saying good-bye to that house seemed impossible, yet when the time came to let go, we did so with a unified sigh of relief and sense of rightness. This past Sunday proved us right. We christened my grandmother’s new home with a long-awaited reunion. The house sits unpretentiously across the road from the old place; its compact newness, red bricks, and green shutters contrasting sharply with the sprawling Victorian. The new roof is shingled; central air and heat will provide year-round comfort; the windows are adjustable; there are two bathrooms, and practical, eight-foot ceilings.
Dinner was a real extravaganza, and again, we ate wherever we could find a seat. We counted twenty-seven present, but this Easter will bring everyone together once again. We will number 35.
After dinner we sat on the porch–yes, of course there’s a porch! It stretches across the front of the house, lined with rockers, straight chairs, and a new wooden swing, and as the afternoon waned, we talked of politics, religion, gossip, and sex. We laughed; we argued; we cried, and we gave thanks once again for the love that still binds us together.
It was so good to go home again.