The Art of Porch Sitting

Take the time this summer to sit in a classic front porch rocker.
Take the time this summer to sit in a classic front porch rocker.

The pools have opened, hit movies are coming out every week, and ice cold drinks have never sounded so refreshing. Summer has arrived on our front step, and where better to greet it than on the front porch?

Originally the porch, from the Latin porticus or portico, meant the front part of a colonnade, a walkway with columns supporting a roof in Ancient Greece and Rome. It was sometimes known as a veranda around a courtyard.

Over the decades and centuries the idea of a porch changed. In Italy it became a loggia or a shaded outdoor area outside a public building. In West Africa, the porch was an outdoor extension of the shotgun houses. It served as a place to work, socialize, and rest. When the occupants sat under the extension, they were within sight and reach of those in the courtyard and those in the surrounding homes along with those in the house. The porch stood as their connection to the community.

Today porch is defined by the Merrium-Webster Dictionary as “a covered area adjoining an entrance to a building and usually having a separate roof.” Not quite the connection to the community as the West Africans originally built it.

In today’s society, smart phones, GPS, texting, emails, and the Internet demand the majority of one’s attention. We connect to the community through Facebook and Twitter. Face to face interaction has declined and it has taken the sense of the community with it. Neighbors don’t know each other as well as they did before the outbreak of mobile phones acting as computers. Most of us could use a few more moments to disconnect and sit on a front porch.

Many if not most of the homes constructed between 1920 and 1960 in Roanoke’s classic neighborhoods feature porches that are still set up and made to look welcoming. The rocking chairs are set just so. The painted porch swing matches the coffee table set. The bright flowers catch everyone’s attention. But how many of those porches are being used as something more than a covered entry way?

Davida Rochlin writes in her chapter on front porches in Home Sweet Home, that the porch “was just there, open and sociable, an unassigned part of the house that belonged to everyone and no one, a place for family and friends to pass the time.”

The connection to everything through websites and phones and email has actually put most individuals on their own private island. But the front porch, while also being private, gives family and friends a chance to be connected in an immediate and personal way, as the West Africans knew, to those in the house, in the front yard, and in the street as well.

Sometimes it’s not a matter of finding the time as much as making the time. Sit on the porch swing or a rocking chair instead of surfing the channels for a television show. Watch the kids catch lightning bugs in the front yard. Light the citronella candles and make a night of it. Take the time to disconnect and relax after a busy or not-so-busy day. Simply sit . . . on the porch.

Porch sitting is an art and it does not come easily, but if we try we just might discover something new. It is as Mr. Han from the 2010 remake of The Karate Kid says, “Being still and doing nothing are two very different things.”

By Jessica A. Roberts

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