whatever happened to the front porch?

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As a little girl, I used to daydream the usual little-girl-daydreams: about my future husband, my wedding, my children, and my house. I could never really picture what my husband would look like; I didn’t really care about my wedding; I was pretty flexible regarding the kids (though I admit I wanted twelve after reading Cheaper By the Dozen…); but my house! My house had some very specific requirements. It needed a bay window, because that would be my reading spot. I needed my own bathroom (well, I’d let my husband use it), because I’d never had my own bathroom before. It needed multiple fireplaces, because no winter evening is complete without one, and certainly no Christmas morning. And it absolutely had to have a wraparound front porch, complete with hanging potted plants and rocking chairs like the ones at Cracker Barrel.

I have to admit I’ve altered my expectations a bit. I don’t think that, as a child, I took into account the fact that houses cost money. I don’t know if or when I’ll ever be a homeowner, or if I really want to deal with that responsibility. I’ve also realized that my tastes have changed a bit since I moved to the Midwest. (I was SHOCKED the day that I realized my favorite house on my drive to church is one that is shaped kind of like a barn.) I wouldn’t need a bay window or a private bath. But deep inside my little girl heart, I still want that front porch with its flowers and rocking chairs.

Ironically, my deeply rooted dream of front porch life might be the most difficult to grasp. Front porches are a thing of the past; they’ve been disappearing for years, and now most houses have a nice, screened in back porch and a tiny front stoop that serves no other purpose than to help frame a front door that is more decorative than functional. Most people go from work to car to garage to interior entrance, and if they venture outside it’s to their screened in back porch or fenced in backyard.

I was talking to a friend at church last night who told me that fenced in yards were barely in existence when he was growing up in the 60s. Communities formed and grew and thrived on front porches. I feel the loss of this even while I’ve never really known it. This poignant column recalls the days of the front porch community in his home town. While he believes his town is truly better now than it was when he was a boy, the absence of front porches (“this row of naked homes”) exemplifies a loss of trust and loving one’s neighbor. I think that communal trust and relationships are really what I want when I dream about that front porch of mine. So, friends, you’re invited (who knows how many years in advance) to enjoy friendship and breezes and iced tea on my front porch. I hope you’re build them, too. And I hope we’ll all learn how to be better neighbors.

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