Sitting on the summer-night porch was so good, so easy and so reassuring that it could never be done away with. These were rituals that were right and lasting; the lighting of pipes, the pale hands that moved knitting needles in the dimness, the eating of foil-wrapped, chilled Eskimo Pies, the coming and going of all the people….Oh, the luxury of lying in the fern night and the grass night and the night of susurrant, slumbrous voices weaving the dark together. –Ray Bradbury, Dandelion Wine
I had actually forgotten about the book, sadly enough. I am guessing the last time I read Dandelion Wine was twenty years ago. Ray Bradbury is a genius. The book is essentially the smell, taste, touch, and sound of summer. Reading from the eyes of the protagonist, a pre-teen boy named Douglas, anyone can feel how this small but powerful book instantly projects the warm hug of summer and what it meant to be a kid. But I digress.
Although the chapters are not numbered, what would be Dandelion Wine‘s chapter seven is a magnificent piece of writing. Last night, while reading that particular chapter, I re-read it three times. I had to. It is the difference between glancing at a Monet and taking time to look at closely, moving away, stepping closer, soaking it in. It is in this chapter where Ray Bradbury paints the timeless art of sitting on a porch. Yes, sitting. If you have never experienced a passing of time by sitting on a porch, you have definitely missed something special. Just think of Andy Griffith on the porch, and you will get the idea.
Many years ago, as a child myself, there was a time before cable television (a culprit in the death of porch sitting). Air conditioning was also a rarity. For the majority of houses built forty or more years ago, they had a different objective for their occupants. There was a sense of community, a wholeness that bonded a neighbor to a neighbor and encapsulated a neighborhood with a feeling of family. How? A sheltered but open structure built on the front of houses that included chairs, plants and a thing called a swing. It was here that family gathered after the evening meal, inviting others who strolled by to come up a “sit a spell.” Kids were shooed off of the porch and occupied their time playing in the street or yard, with every now and again one shouting about the approach of a car. Somewhere around the age of thirteen or fourteen, there was an unannounced and unexpected graduation ceremony from yard urchin to porch sitter. I can still remember feeling so “grown” when asked to sit and discuss something with my grandfather. I had graduated. The adults spent time smoking and flicking ashes into potted elephant ear plants or ferns. Ladies fanned. Men sweated. Everyone sipped sweet tea and gossiped. Mosquitoes and the heat were something to complain about, while acknowledging from time to time about the blessing of such a pretty evening. It was the reference to what Ray Bradbury described as “voices weaving the dark together.”
The society I have watched devolve over time has brought death to the community structure. Isolation is the secret agent. Adults scroll through their “social” media, needing to know if they are “liked.” Children do the same or play video games in their rooms (a child’s apartment filled with entertainment to keep them occupied and out of sight). Thinking constantly of self is an evil monster. Currently, society has been divided and conquered. Division is paramount to the need of dependence; that being the need of the state or federal government. Before neighborhoods became subdivisions, neighbors counted on neighbors. The porch was a place of bonding and sharing of ideas. Unity drove patriotism and watered the roots of the liberty tree. Skepticism and ignorance have fractured the concrete that secured us to the fact that we are to “love our neighbor as our self.”
Finding the lost art of porch sitting is tiny part of bringing us back together again, but it is a start. Even if you do not necessarily have a porch, you can have a time set aside without cell phones and other electronic distractions. Establish an area with a picnic table or outdoor furniture. Invite neighbors to come by. Communicate with the spoken word. Laugh. Disagree. Learn about the needs of others. It is a fact that the more you care about others and less about self the more you will unconsciously meet your own needs and the fractures in the concrete are repaired.