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Monsignor Robert K. Golombek: Summers on the porch brought us all together

Our front porch on Swinburne Street wasn’t very large, but it was a magical place during the summer months, and memories of inspired porch evenings still warm my heart.

The trellis of roses that bloomed on the side of the porch nightly bathed us in their sweetest aroma, symbolizing these summer evenings of laughter, prayer and neighborly sharing.

None of this would ever have transpired had it not been for our Saturday morning’s hard work. Grandma and I dusted and polished until the swing and rockers gleamed. I scrubbed the floor and stairs to a shine because Grandma would check.

After supper’s dishes were dried and placed away, the porch slowly filled up – Grandpa and Grandma, Mom and Dad, Aunt Helen, cousins Loretta and Adele, and my brother, Lenny, who all stayed to listen and share in the day’s news, activities and concerns.

When neighbors fell ill, we prayed for them. If someone celebrated, we arranged a gift delivery for that occasion. If someone suffered sadness or death, we offered sympathy by personally reaching out with caring to this family.

When neighbors walked by our porch, they heard radiant greetings and invitations: “How nice to see you!” “How are you?” “Please join us for lemonade or coffee.”

Many people visited our porch for healing from Grandma, whose knowledge of herbs and Old Country remedies was vast. Others sought her out for wisdom and encouragement about life, and they departed happier than before they arrived.

Showcased each evening was the homemade sweet treat of the day. Root beer floats stood out as my favorite. Some nights were devoted to strawberry pie, others dedicated to cheesecake with pineapple, still others spotlighted chocolate pudding lavished with whipped cream. Hot or humid evenings featured ice cream scooped out in a myriad of colors and flavors. All of this may not have been healthy but, like Mom’s lemon meringue pie, it sure was delicious! Because I never knew what she would surprise us with from the kitchen, I made certain I stayed on our porch until treats were served.

On dance nights at St. John Kanty’s Lyceum, situated half a block away from our porch, we were privileged to overhear the 1940s music of many world-famous touring dance orchestras.

Masters played there – the Dorsey Brothers, Glenn Miller, Harry James, Kay Kyser, Benny Goodman, Gene Krupa – and because the Lyceum’s dance hall windows were open, our neighborhood of appreciative porch audiences enthusiastically shared in these talented orchestras’ vibrant sounds.

Today I honor this porch because it was the center of my earliest education. Here I discovered the meaning of generosity, sharing and companionship, and as a child I began to see how blessed to grow into a caring neighbor.

After Mom passed, I sold this house that Grandfather built. I occasionally drive down Swinburne Street to gaze nostalgically at our porch, which was the first school I ever attended – the school of love.

We all lost something extraordinary when these shared neighborly hours vanished from our front porches. Instead, indoor televisions and backyard patios replaced the front porches’ potential for caring togetherness that so deeply nurtured us.

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