I’ve been thinking about porches lately. I did a little reading and reflecting and here’s what I came up with. First a definition. A porch is a covered shelter projecting from a building. Often it is not enclosed except for a railing—although some porches have latticework, screens, or even windows.
Front porches in the United States were very popular up until the 1950’s. Researchers say the front porch has great cultural and historic significance. A front porch connected people to nature and fostered people’s love and appreciation for the outdoors. The porch also symbolized the American family. It was an outdoor living room where the family often gathered.
The porch was also a link between the private and public life of people. It encouraged interaction with the larger neighborhood. In cities, people often spoke to other families from their front porches or greeted their neighbors as they walked down the street. The porch helped to foster a sense of community.
But the front porch began to disappear after World War II. Its demise is attributed to three major factors: the car, air-conditioning, and TV. The increase in car traffic produced noise and exhaust fumes that drove people from their front porches and into their back yards. Cars also provided families with greater mobility. They could hop in their cars and go places instead of sitting on their front porch. The rise of air-conditioning also chased people from their hot porches to the cool interior of their homes. And finally TV lured people from their porches into their living rooms or dens.
As I walk or drive around the older part of my town, Chardon, I see many old Victorian houses with huge porches. Some porches wrap around the house on three side. But newer (built after the 1940’s) and smaller homes, seem to have small front porches or no porches at all. I notice, however, that many of these homes have decks or patios in the backyard. Newer huge homes in this area often have large front porches, but I seldom see anyone sitting on them.
Growing up, I lived in a big yellow farmhouse built around 1890. Our house originally had a porch on three sides of the house, but two thirds of the porch was removed when my parents bought and remodeled the home in 1942. Still, the house retained three porches: a front porch off the living room, a side porch off the dining room, and a small enclosed back porch off the kitchen used mostly for storage. In the summer, my parents often sat on the front porch after supper. We kids sometimes joined them, usually sitting on the porch steps, talking, and watching the cars going down the road. It was a relaxing place to be. (The night before I left for the convent, I sat on that front porch with my parents for the last time. I cherish that memory.)
In her book, Ordinary Places, Sacred Spaces, Evelyn Mattern devotes a chapter to porches. She says that front porches are significant for another reason than the ones I mentioned earlier. She says, “porches nurture self-expression.” She continues, “Those who can’t afford fancy flower pots, elegant trellises, and outdoor furniture find that painted kitchen chairs and ancient rockers do very well. Some of the poorest neighborhoods in the North and South have some of the prettiest, most flower-decked and vine-covered porches. They are places in the sun, places in the shadows, where we can dream what seems impossible indoors.”
What has been your experience of porches?
Do you have a porch now? If so, what does it look like? Do you use it? If so, when and how?
Do you regret the demise of front porches?
Do we have anything today that can foster what porches used to foster: love for nature, family togetherness, a sense of community, or self-expression?
Porches sometimes call us to slow down and rest. Here is a beautiful song by Brian Doerkson that reminds us that God regularly calls us to slow down and rest. It’s entitled “Enter the Rest of God” and features not only lovely lyrics, but also some stunning photos. My favorite line from the song is this: “live the unforced rhythms of grace.”
I invite you to share a few of your thoughts with us on this reflection and/or song…
Good morning, Sr Melannie. My wife and I live in a duplex with a porch that connects both the houses. It’s a small porch, but for the past 29 years we have seen our children and our sister-in-law’s children gather there, all dressed up for their first day of school, all dressed up for prom, the comings and goings of daily life. Have a great day and a terrific week!
Hi, Melanie!Check out the the country song by Tracey Lawrence called, “If the World had a Front Porch.” The pictures are priceless as well. Goes well with your mediation on Porches! Thanks!
We have a Victorian home with a front porch (one of the reasons we bought the home). Our porch has two rockers and a table with four chairs.
We like to talk to on the porch and greet our neighbors.
I have very fond memories of sitting on our
porch especially after supper –either being
With family or waiting for all the neighborhood
kids to gather for tag, hide n seek, kick the
can, or softball. Thanks for the reminder of
wonderful days gone by.
We share the same memories. Our house was the only house with a porch on the block. All of us kids played in the street by my house.
The nature photography is stunning! Our world is so beautiful! Thanks you God!
We lived on the St. Clair River in Michigan. We had a huge porch that
faced the river. There was a swing there for 4-5 people could sit on, plus a large picnic table suitable for up to 20 people. Many chairs.. We were on the porch from the beginning of Spring through the end of Fall and then some.
All the family were invited to come any time, like a open house party all year long. My folks loved everyone, all were welcome.
My Dad often was found there with the rosary in his hand praying.
This was his dream to live on the river and share it with all.
Thank you S. Melannie or all the beautiful reflections which you share
with us. So many of them are so meaningful to me and give me comfort
and joy. PORCHES is especially meaningful because porches do happen
to be one of my favorite things… and I, too, had a similar “going away”
experience before I entered the convent…what a beautiful memory.
Thank you, and God bless you and your ministry.
Growing up we had 2 porches – we lived in a double. My grandparents lived on the first level and would sit on the porch in summertime and my grandfather smoked the “stogie” cigars. The aroma would rise to the upper porch – I miss him and the stogie! We also enjoyed many root beer floats – a special treat on a hot summer night. Grandparents had a swing that hung from the ceiling and we would try to swing so high to touch our feet to the ceiling – daredevils!
Thank you for the reminder of happy, safe times!
Dear Sister: This reflection so much brought me back to our summer house in Brant Rock, Mass which had a long screened in side porch that you could get to from the kitchen and the living room. My Uncle made a huge picnic table probably 15-20 feet long. We had all of our summer meals on the porch after Dad got home from his commute from Boston with a few of my sisters who were also working “in town.” What glorious memories of laughter, fun, sweet summer corn, big tomatoes, and of course of my July Birthday celebrations with all the Ardinis singing at the top of their lungs! At the end of the porch, there was still enough room for a few rockers and a small table where my Dad, and any of us who wanted to sit (at the table or in the old chairs brought out from the kitchen) , would listen to every Boston Red Sox game on a crackly radio. Treasured moments. In 2015, we had our backyard transformed into a huge patio and we have a large gazebo type tent int he middle with comfortable outside furniture. (“The Big Top” we call it!) It is truly such a blessing as it has become the gathering spot for my husband and I for our afternoon “Happy Coffee Hour” and the spot where our adult children most naturally come to when they return home to catch up with one another. Being outside and away from the TV makes us more aware of the blessings that surround us- the birds, the flowers and one another. Thank you Sister for sharing your reflection with all of us! Peace, Loretta
Thank you for another wonderful message and the beautiful hymn and pictures. I didn’t grow up with a front porch but your message brought fond memories of going to Massachusetts from Nova Scotia in the summer to visit my mother’s family home where some of her siblings still lived. My aunts and uncles who lived nearby would drop in to chat and my cousins and I would play.
I live in Lakewood, Colorado in a nice neighborhood. We have noticed this past year that porches or chairs placed in front of homes are reappearing throughout the neighborhood. We have a gazebo which is our answer to sitting outside with privacy.
When I grew up we had a very large porch in the front of the house. And as you mentioned, our family would gather on it after supper.
My Mom and Dad never owned a home, when I was 7 (1960) we moved into a house that had a screened in porch. My younger brother and I would drag our mattresses down on hot summer nights (no air-conditioning or even fans!)and sleep on the porch. What a treat! My younger brother and I often talked about the fun we had during those years. It was hot in the summer and we froze in the winter, but that is where all my fondest memories are. When I see homes with front porches, my mind goes back to those days. We moved out in 1968 to live in a “modern” apartment-no front porch, or backyard, or Willow tree to climb. The house was torn down eventually and every time I drive by, I think of that porch, and my brother (who passed away a few years ago).
I also remember front porches fondly. My childhood home had one. I remember playing with paper dolls on it, drawing, coloring and cutting out paper clothes for them, playing cards, making hollyhock dolls.
Our last home where we raised our 5 children had a big porch. They made haunted houses under it when their out-of-town cousins visited.
Porch sales were had on it when we moved from the house. A porch swing made for relaxing times and picture taking of grandchildren.
After my knee surgery it housed a stationery bike so I could exercise and get fresh air and observe the neighborhood. The house next door to us had its porch removed. Years later new owners restored the porch, which made the house look much more welcoming. Thanks for bringing back those memories.
Dear Sr. Melannie,
I love your reflection on porches. I have a front porch and there is nothing I enjoy more than sitting outdoors on a summer evening with a cup of coffee and a book … other than sitting on the porch on a warm afternoon and chatting with a friend. My porch offers a degree of privacy … and a sense of connection to the wider world as I nod to and/or say ‘hello’ to the people who walk by. There’s something so ‘homey’ about a porch! I loved today’s song, too. Thank you. Blessings!
Love your story about porches. The song is so very beautiful!
Thanks Sister Melanie
The reflection on porches brought back pleasant memories of growing up. We had a large front porch with a swing and furniture to sit and chat. We and the neighbor kids played “house” during the week and on Sundays after church we would sit and chat with neighbors coming and going to Church (we were only 2 blocks away). My Dad always read the Sunday paper on the porch swing. Today that porch swing has traveled from Indiana to my daughter’s home in North Carolina. We still love it. Thanks for all your articles.
All the comments about children playing outside brought back fond memories….my mother would scrub the front porch every week and always had rag rugs on it. Had a lot of friendly neighbors, mostly Slovak and Hungarian who would congregate and enjoy each other’s stories.
When my husband and I bought our first house in 1987 I insisted on two things – a two story house ( because I grew up in a ranch home) and a porch. The house we bought was built in 1950 and was a small “Cape Cod” with a nice front porch. My husband’s grandfather bought us a porch swing as a house warming present. It was the best gift ever – so many photos were taken on that porch swing – neighbors, my father and his brother, my husband’s brother. Many an evening I ( or my husband) would be rocking our son on that porch swing – nothing seemed to calm him more than being outside and rocking!
I grew up with small front porch in Italian/ Spanish neighborhood. We all had porches and spent time with kids playing , and hanging out. At night you could smell good cigars and hear the sound of dominos as they were shuffled around the table. It’s a memory I’ll always cherish
Dear Sr. Melannie,
You really jogged a lot of pleasant memories this week! Be assured that I am taking time to let God know how enriched I feel by the memories of people, places and events made more precious because they were experienced on someone’s porch.
I’m sure, Sister Melanie, all the comments show that you really hit on a subject that has triggered happy memories! Growing up (I’m now 79) we always had a front porch. We lived in a rural area, and we looked out on fields and pastures and grazing cows. We loved it when it came time to “clean the porch” after winter, and put cushions on the furniture; the metal type that has again become popular. It was our outdoor living room, but always with a space for my dad’s “crops”. He would put a screen frame on the floor to dry his onions, and there would be a shady spot for the tomatoes. We would have a card table for a puzzle or to play games. It was a really wonderful outdoor “family room”, and I, as others, treasure the memories. Thank you!
What a beautiful memory you brought back. Sitting on my front porch 70 years ago and watching the cars drive by. Waving to friends and dreaming of a world beyond that Main Street. Our world is so beautiful and your weekly reflections continually remind us of this and God’s great love for us. Thank you and God Bless You, Sister Melanie
We raised our family in an old farm house in Indiana which had a front porch on two sides with doors opening on to it from both our bedroom and the living room. Our seventh child, Melanie, started her singing career at the age of 2 by standing on that porch and singing into a pretend microphone (a wooden clothes pin) until neighbors would gather to listen. When our 8th child was born, my husband converted half of our wooden porch swing into a cradle so that I could swing Sarah to sleep while reading or passing the time of day with neighbors.
When we moved to Florida in 1993, we bought a house that is built in a U shape with a very large porch/pool area in the back. We live and entertain on our porch most of the year. We are surrounded by flowers, a grow box for vegetables and a butterfly garden. We aren’t able to wave at our neighbors but we definitely commune with nature and socialize on our porch. Everyone who enters our front door walks straight through the house to the porch.
At a recent retreat sponsored by the Diocese of St. Petersburg, FL, the facilitator mentioned your book, and it was she that sent me the link to your blog. I would welcome seeing your “seeds” regularly, as the retreat was to help us “Find God in all the Nooks and Crannies”. Although I grew up in New York City (without a porch), I enjoyed reading all the comments. God bless you in your ministry.