This Place of Summer Dreams
by Jeff Rennicke
From Wisconsin Trails
as printed in Readers Digest June 1997
For years I have been driving past a ramshackle old place outside of town, gawking at the remnants of a grand wrap-around front porch - gracefully rounded corners, white post beams, a view of a little creek. Each time I'd think that someday I should pull over.
Well finally I did, suffering the strange looks of passers-by. Now I find myself stepping onto the abandoned porch, the boards creaking under me. I walk around to every corner, as if looking for something. And maybe I am.
My mind drifts to the memory of my grandmother's wide, big-pillared porch set among elms in Kaukauna, Wis. In those days a front porch was a central part of the house and its daily routine: a catchall for muddy boots, baseball gloves and bags of tomatoes left by neighbors. It was a command post for parents and grandparents, who kept an eye on us playing in the neighborhood, all the while pretending they weren't watching.
But grandmother's porch was more than that. On rainy days the porch became a playground for us kids, limited only by our imaginations. The railing might be that of an elegant ocean liner, with people on the sidewalk being well-wishers seeing us off.
On hot summer afternoons the porch sat pooled in the coolest shade, an instant retreat. On hot summer nights there'd be bursts of laughter and the slap of cards as aunts and uncles played round after round of
sheepshead. Each Sunday, Grandpa would sit alone in his rocker reading the newspaper and tossing cigarette butts on the lawn, which Grandma would pay us a nickel apiece to pick up.
Maybe it is the flicker of those memories that has me exploring this old porch. I find a place where a beam of sunlight has warmed the floorboards and sit wondering how long it's been since I've taken the time to porch-sit. I hear the buzz of a bee from a nest in the rafters and the whine of the highway nearby.
But there should be more. There should be the smell of blueberry pie cooling on the windowsill, a pitcher of lemonade on a table with fresh-cut flowers, the sound of a squeaking porch swing as young lovers lean in for a first kiss.
Those are not things we experience much anymore. Our porches are mostly empty. Young lovers have moved to movie theaters or the mall. The adults are inside, the TV performing its mind-numbing magic. New homes are seldom built with porches, but with back decks screened for privacy.
Still, every once and a while I happen across someone on a porch - an older person gazing down the street, a young mother rocking a baby, or kids playing a game. Each time I want to stop and climb up on the porch with them - just to share the view and enjoy life at the speed of a rocking chair.
Finally, as I stand up to get back on the road, a passing car honks. The driver waves like an old friend. I wonder whether he, too, is remembering some summer day spent idling away the hours on a porch.
Even after the car is long out of sight, I find myself waving back. Okay, I think, settling back down, maybe I'll sit for a few moments more.
Another car approaches. This time I am the first one to wave.