THE BACK PORCH
by Donna Johns
I used to have a back porch.
The house on Sycamore Street was rickety around the edges, full of horsehair plaster and faded midcentury wallpaper. The plumbing rattled, the old gas stove belched, the lights flickered. Spindles on the front staircases were frequently kicked out by active children racing up and down. The old house swayed in high winds but never broke.
Off the kitchen, with its decaying tile, was my back porch. It was long and narrow with a wide plank floor and four large windows. It was on the second floor, so the view out the windows was at tree level. In the spring, dogwood blossoms spread out like a quilt of pale green and white and pink. In the summer, lush green branches sang in soft breezes. Autumn was gaudy with scarlets and yellows. Winter’s bare branches, encased in ice, scraped against the windows and sent me inside for a month or two.
I had a phone on the porch. With it I negotiated with my dentist to pay over time for the children’s dental care, prevailed upon the electric company to accept a partial payment, begged the oil company for a small delivery to tide us over until pay day. I had a computer on the porch so I could work a second and third job, using my research skills to bring in much needed money.
The proximity of the porch to the kitchen came in handy when little thieves would grab the refrigerator door handle in search of lunch meat, bread, fruit. I guarded the food fiercely, for there was no money for more. They were well fed only because my parents or my favorite uncle would drop by every week or so with grocery bags brimming with healthy basics and decadent treats.
My coffee pot was close by for frequent refills. I would drink from my mug, smoke a cigarette, and steer the family ship past one obstacle, then another, and another. New shoes (three sizes in one year?), highwater pants (can I let the hem down?), field trips (you need how much money by tomorrow?).
But my porch was also a place for me to read, to write, to dream. One child or another would escape the noise that permeated the house to sit on the porch with me, confide a sorrow or a triumph, or just enjoy companionable silence among the trees. Cats stretched out on the window sill, chattering at birds.
I don’t have a porch any more. Just a utilitarian step to the sidewalk. The children are all gone to their own lives. But I have the memory of that porch and a challenging life well lived.
Donna is a teacher/librarian, writer of unpublished romance novels, sometime director of community theater and BOLLI member. She has two fantastic faux knees which set off the metal detectors at Fenway Park.
4 thoughts on “MEMOIR FROM DONNA: THE BACK PORCH”
Hello Donna, it was a real treat to read this ode to your long-ago porch this morning. I felt right at home there with you.
That’s a great memory, Donna. I have always loved porches, whether of the outdoor (like yours) or screened-in variety. In the triple-decker I grew up in on the third floor in Dorchester, we had an outdoor back porch facing the communal yard of a few different houses and an enclosed but unheated front porch that my brother and I used as a bowling alley!
Very lovely, Donna. Porches are very special to me also, and someday I’ll write about it. Meanwhile, I thoroughly enjoyed your recollection and re-creation.
Beautiful, almost poetic.