By Margaret Ford Pudlinski
Condensed from NorthEast Magazine
as printed in Readers Digest August 1994
I first heard about Veranda Beach on my grandparents' porch the summer I
was 13. It was a lazy New England night that left the hills a smoky blue and the
air heavy with the smell of rain. The last shadows were melting into dusk as
conversation turned to the summer ahead.
"Any plans?" my grandfather asked. My father tipped his chair back and
blew smoke rings into the air from his pipe.
"Just Veranda Beach," he answered with delight. They all chuckled.
My heart pounded. Veranda Beach? Where was it? When would we go?
"Why you're there already," my father teased. There was a gentle chorus of
laughter as they told me the awful truth. Veranda Beach was the front porch. We
were going nowhere. My adolescent spirits plunged. What did they see in that
Well, summer passed, and with age came wisdom. I realized the front porch
was no enemy to adventure. It was a window on the world and a lesson in how
that world works. What's more, the love affair continues to this day-with new
lessons adding to the old.
On my family's porch, I learned about life and love, hopes and dreams, and I
learned about promises and trust. One day it was the front door to Tara, as my
sister and I assumed awful Southern accents and scouted the horizon for Rhett
Butler. The next day it was a castle fortress or a ship at sea. And when Fleabags
the cat brought home a rabbit, the porch was where I cried over the fragility of
On the veranda, my mother and grandmother would serve three o'clock tea-
the icy glasses of flame colored liquid glowing richly in the summer sun. The
tinkling of ice against glass was the music of dogday afternoons. It was there we
children absorbed the etiquette of the porch-universal Rules for Porch Behavior
that were never mentioned, simply understood.
The screen door might slam, but the noise stopped there. We had no hair-
pulling, running or (heaven forbid) spitting. When we had to take on a sibling's
temper, we descended to the lawn, where we could then tear each other limb
from limb, but never on the porch.
For the adults, lighthearted bantering and games of checkers were
encouraged; talk about taxes and checkbooks was not. The veranda was a place
to enjoy the little things. Life was slower there, and you could freeze-frame
Late at night, the porch took on a more serious side. In the house, my sister,
brother and I would lie in bed and listen to the muted conversations of
generations. Sometimes they would talk about injustice, and we would learn
from the quiet outrage in their voices.
Over the years, fledglings that paused to roost on our porch turned into
hawks, while I learned to set my own sights on shooting stars instead of fallen
ones. Now, more than a few verandas later, I have become a connoisseur of the
porch, the steps and the stoop.
This summer I am spending time perched on a porch rail, trading stories with
my children. We are watching fireflies and eating lots of ice cream from the
truck that passed by.
And as I watch a new generation write their names in the sweat of a
lemonade pitcher, I hope they, too, are learning the lessons of Veranda Beach:
Be strong against the wind. Be colorful and imaginative-grow in unexpected
ways. Stretch across the yard, and reach out to your community. Watch for
shooting stars. Remember that even the smallest branch stretches for the sun
when the rain is past. Dance in a summer breeze. See the beauty in a weed
grown strong, and revel in the bud turning to bloom. Hold close the heart of the
Above all, know that sometimes it's better to have a place to be yourself than to have a place to go.