I don’t believe we spend enough time on porches. During childhood porches ranked high on my list of favored places, four of them in particular. My memories have perhaps grown more pleasant than the moments. Tea is always sweeter the day after it’s made.
Mama Joiner’s home was an easy walk from ours. Her long wraparound porch spanned the entire front of her house and most of one side. It was furnished with rocking chairs and a green wooden swing with narrow slats like God intended. A red vinyl cot with a reclining back was added after Papa Joiner had a stroke. He enjoyed the view of the nearby road and regular visits with family and friends. He died in 1957, three months before I turned five. I didn’t realize it at the time, but an open porch now seems a perfect place for repose before taking a journey.
Joiner’s Store was only twenty feet away. My brother, Jimmy, and I would often walk there from home. Papa Joiner would sometimes be standing there, leaning against one of the small wooden support posts. He’d say, “Come on and get a Coke, boys.” An ice-cold Coca Cola on a hot summer day will buy a lot of good will with a young child.
Uncle Emmett, one of Daddy’s brothers, began operating the store in the 1950s when Papa Joiner’s health failed. That’s when a lot of my store porch memories were made. It was a gathering place for neighbors, most of them farmers. Uncle Emmett’s furnishings included a school bus seat he had salvaged, one rocking chair, and plenty of Coke crates that made decent seats if you stood them on end. There was a revolving cast of entertainers on that small but busy stage.
One summer when it was hot and unusually dry, Mr. Edgar Andrews stopped by for a cold soda water. Uncle Emmett said, “Edgar, you think it’s ever going to rain?”
Mr. Edgar paused and studied the clouds like he was looking for a sign. He said, “Emmett, I’ve noticed that it always rains right after a dry spell.” The most likely place to hear that kind of banter is on the porch of a country store. I miss those days, those people, and their charming conversations.
Grandmama Hill’s porch was on the side of their home. The nearby woods had a spring fed stream and sycamore trees with initials of young lovers carved in the smooth white bark. That porch is where the men gathered after Sunday dinners. Granddaddy would sip ice water from his oversized drinking glass as he sat in his sturdy rocking chair. He’d talk about simple things, like a feisty bull he had seen go through the auction at Ernest Mashburn’s livestock barn that week.
At nighttime in summer Grandmama’s porch offered front row seats to an exceptional symphony. There were crickets, frogs, and other common voices, but the sound I loved most was the whippoorwill. There was something intriguing about their lonesome call, as if they were trying to tell me something. I wondered what they were saying, but I never figured it out.
The small screened porch on the front of our home was perhaps my favorite. There were two rockers and a comfortable swing, the swing being my preference. Family and friends talked and laughed on that porch, but the times I remember most fondly are when it was just me. I’d strum my Sears-Roebuck guitar and sing a Hank Williams tune, or maybe something from the Green Broadman Hymnal. I wrote a few songs and sometimes traveled with a band of Gypsies until it was time for bed. The music was never exceptional, but it suited the audience.
Our porch was also a good place for reflection. Psalms 46:10 says, “Be still, and know that I am God.” A quiet porch on a star-filled night is perfect for stillness. It’s an ideal setting for young boys, old men, or those who fall somewhere between. I wasn’t always looking for God in the solitude, but I know now that God was always looking for me.
I don’t believe we spend enough time on porches. I can’t prove it but I’m almost certain it’s true. It’s been a long time since I’ve heard a whippoorwill, and far too long since I’ve even listened. Sometimes I still wonder what those whippoorwills were saying. Maybe tonight I’ll figure it out.