A front porch is a marvelous invention

HARRY MUSSELWHITE

GUEST COLUMNIST

Back in my youth, the family would go to my grandmother's farm in rural Warren County, Georgia, every Sunday for a grand meal and afternoon adventure. My brother and I would finish our three-meat extravaganza and run out the back screen door of the tin roofed "home place." Our destination was the woods and whatever trouble we could get into.

The brothers, Lester and Carl, who lived as bachelors with my grandmother, would finish their table stories of railroad life and, with my aunt, mother, and father, accompany the matriarch to the front porch.

"What do they talk about?" I would ask my brother as we played tag, climbed trees, and picked fresh figs from the backyard tree.

I eventually figured out that a front porch is a marvelous invention. Not one, but two wooden swings stood guard at both ends of that wooden porch. One would never need sleeping pills if only there were recordings of the rhythmical creak of the chains as I would sit on the front stoop (we didn't call them steps!), and listen to the siren tones of my female relatives.

There was a mature cedar tree a few feet from the edge of the porch, and its low lying limbs provided easy access to the middle of the tree. Threats from the parents when we got too high often proved futile; as it was inevitable that one or both of us would fall to the soft Georgia sandy soil.

My mother's Southern cry, "Did you break your glasses?" would ring the countryside.

This was true rural Georgia. On a given Sunday afternoon the two lane blacktop down at the end of the dirt driveway would render up at most two or three cars.

My grandmother would intone, "There goes Eva coming home from that fancy cafe in Thomson." My uncle would utter an affirmative sound by sucking air between his teeth.

Not a fancy Philadelphia salon, but as good as anything I've encountered, I say.

Here in Los Lunas, New Mexico, we have what is called a portale out back where I am writing this column. The dogs are coming and going, and a strong desert wind has found its way to the line of cottonwoods that line the edge of my property. This "porch" is a place of quiet and peace, and I know my uncles and aunts would be most at home here.

In the front of our house is a smaller porch that features two rocking chairs from Warrenton, Georgia.

My aunt owned the largest one level home in Warrenton, and lived just down the street from a young lawyer-to-be named King Askew. King's house had a great porch overlooking Main Street, too. I don't know if King's house in Rome, Georgia, has a porch, but I bet he has fond memories of what a porch brings to rural life.

We would sit on warm Southern evenings and watch the big wheel trucks move through the small town. My brother and I would race down to the sidewalk, and pump our arms at the drivers. We were often rewarded a nice toot from the air horn, and we would celebrate until the next truck came along.

Massive rocking chairs lined my aunt's porch, and their heavy construction provided their own rhythm in accompaniment to the evening's gossip, 'er, conversation.

I have two of those classic rocking chairs on my small New Mexico front porch, and the bride and I love to sit in them and watch the sun turn the Manzano Mountains a rich plum color each evening. We always salute the train as it makes its last run down to Belen.

Those rocking chairs and that setting sun make for great conversation and much discussion of the state of education in New Mexico and beyond.

My father, not a railroad man, would announce each Sunday afternoon that it was time to return home. School and work called the next day, and my brother and I were often dripping wet from sweat acquired from racing 'round the old home.

We would pile in the car and slowly exit the farm. Uncles, aunt, and grandmother would still be sitting on the porch and all would raise their hands in farewell.

My brother and I would wave until we could see that porch no more.

Former Roman Han-y Musselwhite is the author of "Martin the Guitar" and is an award-winning filmmaker.