Community, Culture, Emotional Health, Faith, Family, Friendship, Gratitude, Neighbors, Simplicity, Stories, Texas, Uncategorized, Writing

Porches and patios…

It’s quiet on the porch this morning. It’s always peaceful and quiet, but today is different. We went to Oklahoma yesterday to visit with our very dear friends, Melvin and Janice, and Margaret stayed behind for a few days. I returned to Fort Worth by myself, so it’s quieter than usual this morning. I’ll be ‘batching it’ for the week, which isn’t a problem, but it feels odd without Margaret here. Normally, I spend some time on the porch and then go to work for the day. Some days I write a blog posts and others I get straight to work. I have a couple of projects going now, one of which I’m going to be sharing over the coming days. Since I don’t have Margaret (and my editor) to share the coffee with this morning, a caffeine-fueled, unedited post is in order…

I love our time with Melvin and Janice. Quite frankly, I never thought I’d enjoy Oklahoma. It was the home of my hated college football nemesis, the University of Oklahoma. It was the butt of many jokes and good natured ribbing with my Oklahoma friends growing up (“why does the wind blow so hard in Texas? Because Oklahoma sucks.”), me being from Texas and all. Plus, the year at Oklahoma Christian University (back then it was ‘college’) wasn’t one of my better experiences. I went because mom and dad would pay for college there, but not at the University of Colorado. I figured it’d do me some good to sober up a bit, so I went. I paid for my own school after that…

Melvin and Janice moved to the family farm in southern Oklahoma a couple of years ago. It’s only a couple of hours away and we’ve visited several times. We’ve gone camping with them at nearby Lake Murray and visited areas in the ‘mountains’ (after living in Colorado for a few years ‘mountains’ has a slightly different definition…) to the north. I must admit I was pleasantly surprised. What I experienced in OKC was nothing like the beauty of the Oklahoma I’ve seen over the last couple of years.

Our friends share a fifty-acre farm with Melvin’s grandmother. Turning off the country road onto their drive, you cross the cattle guard and take a long drive up to their 19th century farmhouse, the old ‘family place’. There’s a few horses, cows, and chickens in the back yard. Across the whole of the house is a front porch overlooking the pasture and the road. I must admit that I’m a little jealous. I’m a country boy at heart. I’d even consider moving to Oklahoma…

My visit yesterday was brief. Margaret is spending a few days with Janice. Melvin and I visited for a while on the porch, leaving the wives to enjoy the air-conditioned comfort of the living room. It was still a bit warm, but still cool enough to enjoy. We sat back, immersed in conversation as we watched their grandkids play in the front yard. There aren’t many better ways to spend an evening. The world would be a better place all around if everyone had a front porch to sit on…

When I was growing up, most of the houses in the older sections of town had big front porches. They were inviting, as if asking the passer-by to come right in. It was common to see folks sitting in the shade of the porch, maybe with family or neighbors, shouting out, “Hello, how are you?” to whoever walked or rode past. My grandmother actually knew all of her neighbors (and usually had a dicey story to tell about them). People waved at one another as they drove down the street.

When I was six, we moved to a new house in a suburb of Fort Worth. While I was too young to think about it then, there was shift to smaller and smaller front porches. Home builders were subtly moving folks from their front porches to the patios and privacy of fenced backyards. Looking back, we began to know fewer of our neighbors and have a lot less conversations. The neighborhood wasn’t the same. Safe in the confines of our suburban backyard, we grew more isolated and our friends were people like us. Maybe that’s why diversity and tolerance are such contentious issues today. We shield ourselves from people different from us…

I must admit that I know few of our neighbors today, at least beyond our little cul-de-sac. As an introvert, I’m not comfortable socially. Besides, we rarely see our neighbors outside. We live in an older neighborhood. The older residents prefer to remain indoors while the younger ones seem to work all the time and they are always in a rush somewhere. The only thing reminding us of their presence is the occasional noise coming from the backyard.

I don’t know if such conditions hold true everywhere, but it seems we’ve lost something due to the sprawl of suburbs and their accompanying backyards. Margaret and I have been blessed with a diverse group of friends and family. Still, I miss the experience of neighborhoods and the connection with others that come with them.

For now, I’ll remain content with the solitude of my front porch. I hope that others join me from time to time. Maybe we can start a new social movement – the Front Porch Movement! As the movement grows, maybe we can even share a homegrown tomato together…

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