Monday, July 03, 2006
THE FRONT PORCH VS. THE BACK DECK
Ted on the front porch of the house where he grew up
The first house we owned was located in a small town in Western Massachusetts. It was built around 1900 and had a breakfast nook, built in book shelves, a stained glass window--and a wide front porch. From that porch you could see the mountains, or you could hit the sidewalk and be downtown in five minutes. I loved that house so much I wanted to live forever so I would never have to leave it.
In the summer, we put some second hand wicker furniture on the porch and hung pots full of red and orange flowers. After supper we would sit out in our thrift store chairs and greet the people passing by on the sidewalk. I was expecting a baby on September 3rd and by the end of August, everyone in the neighborhood was excited about the coming event.
"You still here?" they'd say when they saw me sitting on the porch in mid-September.
"Still here," I'd say, stroking my belly as pregnant women have done throughout the ages.
Then they'd linger for a chat, or to pet our dog, Sadie.
The first day I failed to appear on the porch, Ted said the doorbell rang constantly.
One neighbor brought pink balloons to hang from the porch; another made lasagna. Everyone was eager to see the baby.
A couple of years later we moved to the town where we now live. Our new house was built in the seventies. Though it didn't have the character of the place we left, it had a big back yard, lots of privacy, and a deck. In the summer, I would drift out there with my coffee and a notebook. The thick foliage provided such a good screen that I didn't even have to get out of my pajamas if I didn't feel like it.
Over the years, I've watched the kids cooking imaginary dinners from dirt, playing in their vinyl pool, whacking wiffle balls, and celebrating birthdays. I've listened to symphonies of birds, and drunk wine with friends, and written a novel long hand--all sitting on that deck. I've laughed a lot. For me, there is no sight more beautiful than the light that comes through the trees at the back of the property around dusk.
And yet, in eighteen years, I've never come to know my neighbors the way I did in the house with the front porch. The only times I see them in front of their houses is when they climb into their cars to go to work. Otherwise, they, too, are cossetted inside or on their own back decks. We wave to one another from our vehicles or over the roar of the lawn mower.
Maybe this is just me and my neighborhood, but I don't think so. In many ways to our detriment, we have become a "back deck" society. An article I read in the Sunday paper said that Americans are now lonelier and more isolated than ever. Though scientists tell us that the number of friends we have is an indicator of how long we will live, many of us have increasingly few.
And yet, I think the human spirit has a way of getting what it needs. Through the web, I've shared my days and my thoughts with passersby from all parts of the globe; and I've come to care deeply about people I've never seen. Maybe this, the virtual community we create for ourselves, is the new front porch.