Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Before Air Conditioning

This story was written by my mother. She was born in 1914. 


A Porch To Remember

I'll never forget the house where I grew up, and the wonderful summer hours my father and mother spent with me on the wide porch that surrounded two sides of our white four-room bungalow.

 At first it was only a summer cottage. It was purchased by my parents, in the early 1900's from the nearby railroad company which had used it for their workmen while building what was later to be known as "The Cut Off."  The two-track, wide, dirt and rock fill had taken many years to build, but the savings in miles from New York City to points north and west, mainly to transport anthracite coal, were well worth the huge expenditure and effort.


In later years, with the addition of a basement, central heating, and two more rooms, the cottage became a year-around home. It still stands today, modernized by new owners, but one thing has remained untouched—the porch.

The porch made a wonderful sleeping room on hot humid nights. We all had cots where we slept each night from early summer to early fall. Sometimes the bedding became a little damp, but the hot sun in the daytime soon took care of our reluctance to crawl under the covers again. Lying there at night, we listened to the crickets, the katydids, little screech owls and an occasional marauding cat or barking dog.

The mornings were begun by a chorus of crowing roosters, both near and far, joined always by the birds; song sparrows, robins, meadowlarks, orioles, and yes, even bluebirds. Wrens added to the chorus and always built their nests in the rambler rose bushes that bordered the porch, and it never ceased to amaze us how much noise could come from such a tiny bit of life. And the hummingbirds!  Of course they didn't sing in the morning, but if one watched carefully, they could be seen flitting fro their tiny nest in the honeysuckle vine to each ivory-hued blossom. The little jewel-like bodies then took off on invisible wings to the nectar-laden trumpet vine with its bright orange flowers waiting to accept the long bills thrust deeply to gain the life-sustaining fluid.

The view from one side of the porch, since it faced the east, was often spectacular in the early morning. Each day, each week, each month and season had its own special splendor. As the house sat upon a fairly high hill, one could see just about full circle. The mountains were the farthest away, preceded by fields and a few houses scattered among the fence-lined checkerboard hills in the mid-distance. The little country town in the valley below was mostly hidden by large trees along the few small streets, but one knew it was there because the gray slate-covered church spire could be seen dominating the partially visible patches of the roofs of the few scattered homes.

Toward the north, a huge oak tree hid most of the nearby view, but it was the source of many hours of pleasure because it supported a swing which hung from its lowest sturdy branch. I recall how hard I tried to swing to get just high enough to touch the leaves of the big branch. I don't think I ever quite made it, but the effort occupied much of a long summer afternoon. A horseshoe shaped stone fireplace was built in the shade of the friendly ancient tree. A picnic table and cedar-poled shelter faced the fireplace and many family picnics were enjoyed in this long remembered spot of quiet majesty.

To the south, the view from the porch consisted mainly of the railroad embankment and a few farms, accented here and there by tall red or gray silos. That may not sound especially lovely, but have you ever seen a lighted passenger train streak along in the evening darkness? Many was the night we sat on the porch just waiting to catch a glimpse of the "Limited" as it sped on its way toward the city. On a holiday there would be more than one section, often two, and sometimes even three, each group of ten or twelve passenger cars a diamond necklace displayed fleetingly against the black velvet curtain of night.

On nights when there was a full moon, it was something really special to watch as it rose from behind the mountain. We sat on the porch for hours and watched it grow from just a suggestion of brightness in the sky to a full disk of purest silver. If anyone had told us then that one day human beings would walk upon the surface of that disk, we would have laughed derisively and accused them of being dreamers or even worse.

At any time of the day or night, I think that the most impressive sight we looked forward to was that of a thunderstorm! Yes, looked forward to, because we had the most wonderful view of the whole spectacle from start to finish. I firmly believe this is why, to this day, I have no fear of such a storm. We watched as the dark lead-colored clouds began to form, as the wind drove the misty curtain of rain up the valley, and as each flash of lightning illuminated the scene around us. No two bolts were ever quite the same or in the exact same spot. No two thunderclaps ever sounded exactly alike. The mountains echoed each clap to its own mysterious timing in an ever changing pattern. After one especially severe daytime storm, we were treated to a sight not seen by too many people—a double rainbow! The ends of one side of the rainbow were anchored behind the mountain in the distance and the ends of the other side were buried deep in the center of the village and touched with ghostly colored fingers, the very top of the church's spire.

The corner of the porch had another function to perform when it became the center of a new beginning, a small family gathering to celebrate my wedding in 1934. A loving neighbor decorated the area with flowers from her garden, among which were tall stems of the old-fashioned "Golden Glow" which is seldom seen today.

In a few years the porch performed one more use, when a playpen provided a safe area for the first baby, a daughter, to enjoy the fresh air and sunshine. When not in the playpen she enjoyed rocking in a tiny 'Mission' rocker that had been mine and still remains in the family to this day.

No matter where I live, or how far away I may be, I shall never forget the wonderful porch of my first home. Now that porches are back in fashion, I sincerely wish that others could experience some of the sights and sounds which have meant so much to me and stayed with me in memory over the years. Their influence on me has colored and shaped my likes and dislikes over the stretch of time. 

I often think back to those special days and am so grateful for my present home with…you guessed it…a porch. No, I do not wish to go back, but rather to profit by the many incidents that occurred while I enjoyed my first home with a porch, and to learn to enjoy and appreciate my life in the present time and place.

Pauline F. Nulton  (1914 - 2005)


PFN 1924 - An only child has her dolls for friends.

3 comments:

  1. I remember a house with a porch from my childhood. A very nice memory!

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  2. Your mother was a wonderful writer. Is that you with your dolls, or your mother with her dolls?

    My grandparents had a huge porch at their house. I don't ever remember anyone ever sitting out on it, but they may have before I came along. I do remember they had a bunch of canned food stored under it in case of an atomic bomb. Like a wooden porch would survive!

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