In praise of a porch

ERROL CASTENS

ERROL CASTENS

It was on that front porch that we watched spring come with the yellowbells and “laughodils” visible from it.

We saw summer arrive on that porch with the blooming of the magnolia a few feet away, and fall came there, sometimes in 90-degree heat, when Stan Torgerson greeted me from the radio for Ole Miss’ football season opener.

The view of the winter moonrise from that porch backlit a towering silhouette that a 5-year-old easily imagined was a child-devouring monster, even if it was the same massive cedar that offered welcoming shade on many a summer day.

That porch was where we viewed rainbows in the eastern sky and lightning shows to the north, east and southeast.

Though we favored piano accompaniment for most songs (from “In the Garden” to “Beer Barrel Polka,” which my teetotaler Mama played with innocent gusto), the porch is also where Mama and Daddy harmonized a cappella on “Let Me Call You Sweetheart” and other favorites.

Elderly, widowed Mr. John, the richest man we knew, usually sat in the porch swing and conversed before going to check on cattle that grazed in the floodplain between our hilltop house and the river.

Smells on that porch included the musty odor of wet border collie, the sickening sweetness of privet blooms, the bracing aroma of new-mown St. Augustine and the perfect perfume of a cape jasmine halfway across the big front yard.

From that porch we heard crickets and cows, bullfrogs and bees, trucks and tractors. There we watched a five-car pile-up during Hurricane Betsy’s downpour, saw a truck hauling sulfur catch fire (confined to a tire) and felt the constant rumble of heavy traffic on the last part of U.S. 51 to be replaced by I-55.

There, occasional highway hobos asked for something to eat. A small stack of firewood winnowed the selfish from the seekers: Those willing to restack it a few feet away were sent on their way sated; those unwilling to work a few minutes left unfed.

It was on that porch that an Ole Miss coed knocked one cold, rainy Sunday night, and a red-white-and-black-uniformed fox hunter knocked one cold, rainy Saturday afternoon, both after leaving the roadway and getting stuck.

Both were relieved to be welcomed into the only nearby house by folks who didn’t appear altogether to be extras from “Deliverance.”

From that porch I watched, as an 8-year-old, as hundreds of civil rights marchers strode past, determined to complete a march from Memphis to Jackson that James Meredith had started before a thug with a shotgun had put him in a hospital.

I find myself lamenting too often that too many kids seem to know too little of the world.

Maybe they have too few front porches from which to experience some of it.

ERROL CASTENS is a reporter for the Daily Journal and the Oxford Citizen. Contact him at (662) 816-1282 or errol.castens@journalinc.com.