Building a Porch of My OwnPosted: May 16, 2011
I’ve found myself in an increasingly reminiscent mood lately. It’s the end of the school year, it’s the end of the second year of my Doctoral program, and we’ve had some recent losses in our family. And are facing another. M’s getting married, so that brings on another round of changes.
One thing that has been popping up along my meanderings down memory lane has been The Porch. The “porch” was not a “porch,” per se, as in an attachment to our home, or a verandah of any sort. No, this porch, sometimes referred to as “the summerhouse” was a 30×50-foot extension that my Grampa built onto the back of the garage. The porch extended into the back yard and ended about 8-feet short of the tree.
The door from the garage to the porch was a regular door, and there was an additional screen door on the side of the porch for its own separate entrance. The four large, floor-to-ceiling windows converted to screen doors in the summer, and Grampa built the same for the front of the garage. That meant with the garage door open and the back porch doors open, one had a spectacular, mosquito-free breezeway shaded from the hot Wisconsin summer sun.
There was no a/c in the porch, but the windows on the two long walls opened as well, and the eaves of this porch extended to provide shade. Gramma planted ferns along the foundation, framing in Grampa’s fantastic woodwork. The outside of the porch was a sort of rough pine…or redwood. My memories are hazy. I know there was no insulation and that when lying in the porch I could look up and see the underside of the roof. In fact, one of Grampa’s footprints was immortalized there, a dusty relic of his days building this summer getaway.
The Porch was for me a playroom/camp-out place/hideaway/heaven. I spent hours listening to the Sound of Music soundtrack, dancing my way around the room, inventing steps and singing at the top of my lungs. I did the same for other musicals, but Julie Andrews was my favorite. My first true love.
The carpeting was that wooly-durable stuff that was often just laid over concrete. A dark green, I think. Smooth and perfect for driving matchbox cars over, for easily wiping spills (and there were many), for easy paint cleanup (had a fair share of those, too). They’d put in casual furniture, comfortable but not overdone.
One wall, the one on the neighbor’s side (the side that abutted the neighbor’s property) had a small bay window I think. Hanging in that corner was one of those plug-in pictures. Remember those? This was a scene of…Yosemite Valley, I think. You plugged it in and the water lit up and looked like it was flowing. That was our nightlight on the nights we slept there.
In the summer, I can’t think of a night Gramma and I didn’t sleep out there. We’d pull out the cots, put on the sleeping bags, and play a loud and rollicking game of “our game” (a game called Aggravation, with marbles), or she’d kill me at Yahtzee! (I can still see and hear her yelling that gleefully, wiping tears from her eyes…the woman had uncanny luck), or even Gin Rummy. We’d finish up with a dish of ice cream, Grampa would come out to check on us one last time. He’d say, “Don’t forget to lock up, Ma,” and the lights would go out. When I was really small, I can remember Gramma putting me into the brown AMC Hornet and driving us over to the DQ for dipped cones before bed.
As it should be with children after a day of mental and physical activity, I would drop right off. In the morning, Gramma would always be up before me. I can remember pushing open the side screen door and running across the damp grass in my bare feet to the back door of the house (only company ever used the front door) and heading straight for the bathroom.
In the summer my parents would come down for Saturday dinner (I spent summers with Gramma and Grampa while they worked), we’d (my aunt Gail and her husband, my aunt Marjie and her current boyfriend, my mom and step-dad, Gramma, Grampa, and me) crowd onto the picnic bench and eat whatever had been grilled. Oddly, though, I don’t remember the food, save for the corn on the cob. I do remember laughing though. A lot.
I’m sure my mom’s and aunts’ memories of the porch are vastly different from mine. We have an 11-year thing going in our family. My mom is 11 years older than her younger sister (Marjie) and Marjie is 11 years older than I. It’s funny how that has continued, I, in turn am 11 years younger than my partner who is 11 years younger than her sister. I am also 11 years older than my step-son. Modern families indeed.
So…with those age differences, I can completely see differences. I was barely out of junior high when Gramma and Grampa took out the pool, a 10-foot above-grounder. It had cedar steps that flipped up and were padlocked up tight and I can still hear Grampa saying to me, “Peanut, you must not go anywhere near those steps if I am not around.” To this day I cannot think of a single instance where I even touched those steps without him nearby.
My best memory of the porch is sleeping out there during a summer rain. Because there was no insulation, every single drop of rain that hit the roof sounded inside. With the windows open to only the screens, the fresh damp smell of rain, nourished earth, and growing grass would wash through the room, accompanied by the staccato rhythm of the rain as it fell, never touching me in the shelter of a space built from love.
I love that sound.
I miss that sound.
I miss rolling over after a flash of lightning followed by a crash of thunder and seeing the outline of my Gramma sleeping on the cot beside me. Of the comfort of knowing that nothing and no one could touch me there. That, if it got really bad and scary, we could run inside. Or, as happened on one occasion, Grampa would come and wake us, telling us we had to move into the basement of the house because of a tornado warning. He’d been monitoring the weather, you see, from his special place in the basement, his workshop.
And, in looking back on this, I wonder how to pay it forward. How do I provide that space for future little ones who will someday call me Gramma?
One thing I am convinced of is that it is not just the space, but the love that came with it. The love and attention that went not only into the building of that porch for all of us, but the love that went into Grampa listening to his radio, monitoring the path of the storm while we lay sleeping. Or for Gramma going through and locking us in tight after Grampa’s last check.
That, I think we can do.
Tonight: Teach the last class of the semester before the final at AVC, and then come home to watch the spectacular Castle season finale.