by Joanie Butman
Growing up in Brooklyn, the stoop was where we socialized. If it wasn’t the stoop, it was the corner. Though we were often identified by the creative names we invented, our location was coveted real estate. Whether it was a stoop or a corner, both served the same purpose. A place to simply “be,” a tradition that seems to be lost in our society. The closest thing I can think of to compare it to is the bar on the old TV series Cheers whose theme song aptly describes the porch mentality,
Making your way in the world
today takes everything you've got.
Taking a break from all your worries,
sure would help a lot.
Wouldn't you like to get away?
Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name,
and they're always glad you came.
You wanna be where you can see,
our troubles are all the same
You wanna be where everybody knows
The reason it comes to mind now is that in the summer my family lives in Rockport, Massachusetts and “the porch” is the heart of our tiny community. There is nothing fancy about it. It probably hasn't changed much since the day it was built in the early 1900’s.
I have spent some of my most cherished moments on my in-law’s front porch. It has hosted many a victory ice cream after the Doll Carriage Parade, hours of idle chatter, rocking babies, naps, yards sales, lemonade stands, cocktail hours, parties, and the inevitable noontime beer and sandwich; and if your lucky, one of my mother-in-law’s famous Maple Leaf hotdogs on a toasted bun. My father-in-law’s specialty has always been hacking the watermelon for eager children to devour. That porch has produced generations of happy memories. Its rhythm is just as steady as the ocean it presides over.
So, you can imagine my surprise to learn that there is actually a Professional Porch Sitters Union. According to the founder, Claude Stephens, "Starting your own chapter of PPSU is simple. You simply declare yourself a local chapter, pick a number to represent your Local Chapter identity and then sit back with friends and neighbors to celebrate with an interesting story or two. Meetings can be called at any time by any member and attendance is optional." Voila! He just described my summer and my early life in Brooklyn.
I might be a minority, but I value what porches represent; namely, a simpler time. A time when people lived more slowly – when life wasn’t a race but a journey to be savored. A time when the porch was the social media of the day. There is no doubt in my mind that when you have nothing to say, that is when real communication begins, just ask any therapist. The porch discussions vary widely from the sublime to the ridiculous, and I’ve often toyed with the idea of writing a book of Paulisms (my father-in-law) that have been uttered on that porch. The stories I’ve heard there could fill volumes if I could just remember them. Regardless, that porch represents family in its purest sense. It is home – a place without pretense, a place where I am always welcome (or if I’m not, they pretend I am), a place with no expectations, a place to grow old surrounded by your loved ones, a place to simply sit and enjoy the lazy days of summer.
While reading up on the PPSU, I learned it doesn’t have a motto per se, just a suggestion, "Sit down a spell. That can wait." A procrastinator’s dream! I’m starting a chapter called PPSU 80 – the address of my favorite summer haunt. My in-laws will be honored.
You might be wondering what my life-defining choice is here. Certainly not earth-shattering by any means. It is simply to stop and sit a spell, to be in the moment, to put aside my “to do” list, to give myself permission to be lazy, to listen to other people’s stories, to take the time to enjoy those I love while I still have the opportunity. It may seem silly, but it is a choice whose importance you never appreciate until it is no longer an option.
At 95 I don't know how many more summers will find my in-laws at their posts on the porch, so I dedicate this to Paul and Elinor Butman for always saving me a seat at their table, on their porch and in their hearts. Thank you.
I wrote this poem last year in an effort to capture the simple charm of our community in Rockport. It doesn’t do it justice, but it comes close.