I witness a number of people on social media who appear to be a little stir crazy over the continuing social distancing specifications. As a somewhat reclusive introvert, I’m actually enjoying some of the time alone, far from the madding crowd. I’m actually learning somewhat how to enjoy being a porch-sitter, a pastime that hearkens to back to the generation of my parents, the traditionalists.
After I did a little research on porch-sitting, I discovered a photograph of Mark Twain sitting in a rocker on a porch smoking a cigar, which looked rather relaxing. I also found out that porch-sitting is considered to be a “direct or indirect form of social interaction.” Usually, I engage in the activity alone, which is rather enjoyable. I don’t have to exert any effort to make conversation – except for my rather discursive monologues directed at the three or four cats who wander over to my porch from next door to commune with me and beg for treats.
As I searched a little further, I also found out that porch-sitting is also considered to be “a staple of most urban areas.” To that, I say, hmmm. Apparently, that observer never visited the rural South. I then learned that porch-sitting was also “once considered to be a status symbol.” To that, I offer the same response: the observer must not be familiar with the rural South, where a number of porch-sitters started the activity because there wasn’t much else to do in an era lacking mobility, technology, or pecuniary means. Instead, there was storytelling and the breaking of beans from the garden.
Perhaps this is one reason that porch-sitting isn’t an unfamiliar tradition to me, not too far from my heart. As a child, my parents practiced the post-supper activity, with my paternal grandmother, who lived next door, often joining us on our carport where we sat in lawn chairs. Summer and late summer evenings were filled with the breaking of beans, the shelling of peas, or the shucking of corn, all while telling stories. I wish now that I had paid more attention and could remember those stories. I still remember the smell of mimosa from that time and the feel of the warm breeze on my cheek before it was time to go in, bathe, and prepare for bed.
Porch-sitting is also familiar to me because of my literary background as a teacher and lover of literature, especially Southern literature. In 2006, NPR presented a podcast titled “The Porch: A Place of Literary Prominence.” If you’ve ever read one of the most prominent 20th-century pieces of Southern literature, then you are familiar with Harper Lee and her characters Scout, Jem, and Dill from To Kill a Mockingbird, set in the fictional town of Maycomb in Southern Alabama. You should also be familiar with the porch as “the scene of drama, conflict, and nostalgia.”
As Shannon Ravenel, the editor of Algonquin Books, said in NPR podcast, “When I think of To Kill a Mockingbird, I think the whole thing took place on a porch, but of course they ran back, she and the little boy ran back and forth from one porch to the other all through the book. But the porch, of course, played a huge role. It was because, I think a lot of that book takes place in the summertime. It was the place people gathered and where Scout would have heard what was going on in the trial.”
She went on to describe Southern writer Reynolds Price’s description of the porch: “He says it’s a room, it has been in American history, a room that was between the outside and the inside, so that certain kinds of negotiations and social occasions could occur on the porch because it wasn’t quite inside the house and yet it wasn’t out in the yard. You can imagine that in the deep South.”
Perhaps I, as a bonafide Southerner and porch-sitter, will consider becoming a member of the Professional Porch Sitters Unions, a tongue-in-cheek group that apparently has membership in all 50 states, as well as three other countries. As NPR correspondent Michele Norris said in the title of her article, when it involves leisurely sitting, the porch is “not a place, but a state of mind.” I am continuing to learn that same sentiment, although at times, I, too, get a little stir crazy because one of my other pastimes, traveling, is now pretty much off-limits for a while.
In the meantime, however, perhaps I will hone my porch-sitting skills, as I sit on my porch with its blue ceiling – a common color for porch ceilings, intended to ward off evil spirits and known even as “haint blue” in the Gullah dialect of South Carolina Lowcountry. Perhaps the calming blue color of my porch will ward off other unwelcome entities, such as virus and illness – even more so if I stay home and enjoy it. Then when this pandemic has abated, I will be able to travel again. Maybe I will venture to New Orleans, where there I will find a porch or a balcony – the next best thing to a porch – where I can continue my newfound endeavor.