The Great American Front Porch


Randy Riley - Contributing columnist



This past Thursday, I crawled around in the dirty, black mulch I had just spread around on the bare dirt on the north side-yard of our house.

The job was filthy and hot. I had put it off longer than I should have. That little patch of yard had gotten out of control. Grass never grew well there because it was out of the sun. Some of the weeds had grown knee-high. After some major weed-whacking and raking, it was ready for a layer of mulch.

Most of the work I could do by bending over and throwing and raking the mulch into place, but some required closer attention. Following knee replacement surgery a few years ago, I cannot crawl around on my knees like I did in my younger days. So, to get from spot to spot, I had to butt-scoot around in the dirt.

By the time I was finished, I was tired, very hot and filthy, especially the seat of my shorts. To cool off, I sat on the front porch with a tall glass of ice water. I was too sweaty and much too dirty to cool off inside the house in the air conditioning, so I sat there for a while sipping ice water and watching the neighborhood go by.

Now that the little ones are in kindergarten and elementary school, several young mothers took the opportunity to get away by themselves and enjoy a stroll around the neighborhood.

A grandfather was walking (or herding) a toddler down the street. The little one kept running up driveways and onto front porches. Grandpa chased him everywhere he went and kept him moving down Washington Avenue. From my front porch, I enjoyed watching the life of our neighborhood. It was a nice way to cool off.

As I cooled down, I started thinking about my front yard. It almost needed to be mowed. That would have meant getting all hot and sweaty again. I was hoping the urge to mow would pass.

Our mailman was surprised to find me sitting on the front porch. I think he was slightly startled when he heard me call his name. We chatted briefly. As he left, I told him I was fighting the urge to mow.

He said, “Give it another 10 or 15 minutes. The urge will pass.”

It was a good morning on the Rileys’ front porch.

Fifty years ago, the front porch was an important part of every home. It has been said that a person could walk down a neighborhood street in almost any major city and hear the local major league baseball game being broadcast from every porch.

While walking to the market, you could hear the broadcast of every hit and run being made. Stopping to talk to a neighbor about the game, the weather or anything else wasn’t just a common practice. It was expected.

Air conditioning ruined that. Instead of sitting on the porch, neighbors started retreating into the cool comfort of their homes. Pretty soon, the only person who routinely stepped onto the front porch was the mailman, salespeople or kids on Halloween.

Life in the neighborhood changed. Instead of speaking to neighbors on a daily basis, we wave when we both happen to be coming home at the same time.

With the possible exception of next-door neighbors or the family across the street, we might not know the names of people who live around us. That’s rather sad.

The front porch is not just a great place to sit in a residential neighborhood, it’s also fun on a main street or highway. For many years, we lived on Locust Street (part of SR 22 and 3). That old house was located on a slight hill just west of Swindler’s Florist. We had a lot of traffic.

When a semi-truck would drive up that slight incline, our front windows would rattle so loudly we would have to stop talking until it was past the house. We got used to it.

One of my favorite things to do was to sit on that old porch and watch the traffic rumble by. I could sit there with my feet up on the front porch rail, a cup of coffee or lemonade within easy reach and the newspaper unfolded in front of me. Ahhh… life was good on that old front porch.

I used to tell my kids that we were supposed to wave at people who were sitting on their porches. They would always wave at the old folks. The old folks would always smile and wave back.

A front porch is still a great place to sit, rest and watch the world go by.

It’s also a great place to sit while the urge to mow the front lawn passes.

Randy Riley is former Mayor of Wilmington, Ohio, and former Clinton County Commissioner.

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Randy Riley

Contributing columnist