The recent unseasonably warm temperatures have gotten me thinking about the iconic American front porch, which in most suburban towns have gone by the wayside. Here in Montclair, however, they are common and soulful, a delightful transition from the private area of the home itself and the public realm that is the street. On the fourth of July, the town parade marches its way up Midland Avenue which as you might have guessed is situated in the center of town. I usually find an obliging curb on the Avenue to watch the campy display with my family and eye out the school children I know marching with their respective boy scout troop or gymnastics team. But I envy those families who are sitting on their front porches watching the charming line of fire trucks, convertible cars and shriners go by. They have cold drinks and popsicles from their conveniently available freezers, yet they are also enjoying their neighbors and fellow villagers.
Most of the houses in this town were built in the 1920s, a time when the porch was necessary to keep cool and provide respite from the thick summer heat. Most of these homes have now been updated with central air conditioning and their porches are too pristine to be regularly used, with their gorgeously planted urns and tasteful outdoor furniture arranged like a living room. They are underutilized and offered instead as an introduction to what lay behind the door, than perhaps a diversion from it. Rarely are its occupants seen enjoying it, with the possible exception of the fourth of July and Halloween, which is precisely why these are two of my favorite holidays: those that force us all to come together as a village and listen to something other than the hum of our air conditioners.
I saw my neighbor yesterday, and during our chat over the fence (another favorite aspect to life in the ‘burbs) we remarked about the early Spring. I noticed as I continued down my driveway to my reclusive back yard with my toddler that he pulled up his lawn chair and sat down on the deep porch of his Dutch Colonial, opening up his lap top to surf away the rest of the warm afternoon. I longed for that porch as I settled in on my more modern back patio and frankly felt a little lonely.