And then there were none
Article published Aug 15, 2004 SUNDAY ESSAY: By Richard F. Corrigan

Before the automobile, before the television, and before air conditioning -- there was the porch.

Whenever the house became stuffy, I stepped out onto the porch and easily filled my lungs. On the porch, the morning sun warmed my face, and the late afternoon shade cooled my skin. I heard the thunder, watched the approaching clouds, and saw the lightning of an oncoming storm. I felt the wind rush between the porch's pillars and blow sand in my face. And soon after the rain began, I smelled the sweet ozone-cleansed air.

The porch had profound meaning. I waved goodbye to my father from the porch when he left for work in the morning and waited on the porch for him to return at night. It was a good place for relaxing and passing many an evening's hours. I turned on the living room stereo, sat on the porch, and listened to music like Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" while watching the activity in the neighborhood.

Every person had a porch. Our porch had aircraft carrier deck gray steps and floor, wooden banisters wide enough to sit on, and whitewashed clapboard on the sides that reached to the ground where the moisture rotted the edges. The first thing everyone did when they walked out onto their porch was see who else was on theirs. Then they'd wave and maybe holler a sentence or two.

For a time, before I began kindergarten, the porch was as far from home as I was allowed to travel. I set up my Indians and frontiersmen on the porch and recreated battles and powwows. And because the porch was tilted forward from settling, my Slinky walked from the front door, across the deck, down the four steps, and a few strokes down the sidewalk.

On Saturday mornings I stole from the porch milk from the silver insulated milk box. I scooped the cream off the top of the bottle, sprinkled sugar on it, and ate it while watching cartoons.

I stood on the milk box to reach the letters that, rain or shine, the mailman placed in the black cast iron mailbox that hung on the outside wall above the doorbell. And I made it a point to meet the bread man when he rang the bell, insisting that my mother wanted cream-filled cupcakes that day.

Sometimes, Mom carried on conversations with the neighbors from our porch. And she used the porch as her oration podium when we needed a lecture. Hands on hips, dish towel over her shoulder, she delivered a killer message that basically said we were going to die if we didn't toe the mark. I don't remember my father spending much time on the porch except for when he was painting it.

The Fourth of July fireworks that were set off in the park a quarter of a mile away, I watched from the porch. In the cold of a winter's evening, because that's when the nights were clearer, I set up my 80-power, reflecting telescope my father rigged with a gearbox so that when I cranked the lever, the telescope moved gradually across the heavens. I still have the gearbox, but the telescope is buried in some landfill.

On the porch, I played cards and chess with friends. When I was alone, I built plastic models and read.

I greeted the minister when he came for his annual, every-member visit to make sure we planned to continue attending church. I stood on the porch and listened to the policeman, his hand on my brother's shoulder, inform my parents that their son shoveling mud into the public mailbox in front of the police station was not a good thing.

Neighbors stood on the porch or sat on the banister to visit. Coffee, tea, soft drinks, snacks, and even beer was consumed on the porch. The porch was never a place for punishment. It was a friendly place. My first kiss happened on my girlfriend's porch. In a cast with a broken ankle, I spent the entire summer before college on the porch, and all my friends came to visit.

I waited on the porch for visitors to arrive, and from the porch, watched them leave. From the porch, I waved goodbye to Grandma, Grandpa, Aunt Mary and Uncle Joe, my cousins, girlfriends, and my best friend, George.

I'm listening to the same exact recording of Rhapsody in Blue. There a few pops and hisses in the vinyl, but the music is there.

But alas, I have no porch to sit on, no neighbors with one, no passersby to wave at, no relatives to say goodbye to, and no best friend to watch walk home. Only the music is left, and my memory. But the porch is gone, taking so much with it.

Richard Corrigan lives in Sarasota.