Today is the anniversary of the death of humor columnist Erma Bombeck, who was one of my greatest inspirations as a writer (for more about her, see the Erma posts on my Kitchen Table Wisdom blog).
Today I will post a column of hers from September 22, 1994 as a tribute. This column isn’t one of her funny ones but it talks about the front porch and what it used to mean, which I think is fitting, given the name and vibe of this blog.
I also like to think that Monona still has a little bit of that community feel she describes at the end of this column:
Swinging Was Respectable On Front Porch by Erma Bombeck
In a world where people fear who is hanging out in the shadows of automatic-teller machines to withdraw from you what you have just withdrawn and put signs in their car windows, “Don’t bother to break glass. Everything has been stolen,” I was cheered to read that the front porch is coming back.
After World War II, all activities moved to the back of the house. Owners put in barbecue grills, patios and pools; and then they built a fence around it so no one would see what a good time they were having.
For those of a generation who can’t imagine the function of the front porch, allow me to fill you in. It was a place that had a swing that squeaked. There was a roof over it so that when it rained you could swing back and forth and listen to the sound of it falling and smell the fresh earth. Kids left their bicycles and wagons on it so people wouldn’t trip over them on the sidewalk in the darkness.
After dinner, parents had their coffee on the porch to watch the parade of people taking walks. Sometimes they stopped to get caught up on the news of the neighborhood.
For daters, the front porch was the place where you kissed, shook hands and promised to call. (I swear to you that’s the truth.)
We lived in a different world back then. We could never have imagined a time when you pulled the blinds and hid behind them at dusk. We could never have imagined forgoing all that drama going on outside with kids and neighbors to sit in a dark room and watch Kukla, Fran and Ollie on a 10-inch screen.
The porch was another room. I can remember my mother on a stepladder washing it down with a sponge every spring. There were flower boxes and a table to hold the lemonade. There was a welcome mat.
The four of us — my mom, dad, sister and I — talked about everything. We talked about dad’s job, our school, mom’s day, when we were going to get a dog. We watched stars. Sometimes we argued. A newsboy ran through the neighborhood one night shouting “Extra!” Wiley Post and Will Rogers had been killed in a plane crash.
More than any other topic of conversation these days is the state of the world and its people. What’s happened to us? Our cars have alarms and clubs on the steering wheel. Our doors have deadbolts and are lighted up like nuclear sites. We’re afraid of other adults and their children. We all want our old world back, but we don’t know how to get there.
Maybe, just maybe, it’s a path that leads to a front porch. It was more than just a place; it was an arena for learning how to act and how to trust and how we belonged to a group of people more important to us than ourselves.