By Errol Craig Sull
Drive down any street in Western New York: Memories will reach out to many folks as soon as they look up at the front porch on the second story of house after house after house. Chairs, grills, awnings, plants, spirited conversations, toasts — the years of my childhood came tumbling back, block after block, as I travel to and from daily destinations.
I grew up in North Buffalo, and every house on our street had a second-story front porch. In the winters they were quiet, sleeping: The outlines of grills and chairs and empty hanging planters and awning skeletons would be covered by snow. But as spring neared and snows melted the porches began to stir. My mom started by sweeping away the leaves and other dirt that had accumulated over the late fall and winter months (including the skeleton of one dead squirrel).
Next came my dad in late spring, rolling out the canvas awning that he stored in the attic — I was always excited about this because he let me help, and afterward we'd go out for a milkshake.
All was still a bit quiet on our porch — and other upstairs front porches — because there was that spring chill that came hard in the eve, when most porches come alive. Still, all was ready, awaiting early summer warmth and longer days. In anticipation of this, my mom would toss out dead plants from the previous year, my dad would freshen up the grill and my brothers and I would help out by repainting the few areas on the porch that looked weathered and peeled from the hard winter’s onslaught.
Finally, it was time. There was no set date, no national Porches Come Alive Day, no ringing of a bell or announcement in the newspaper. Rather, it just seemed to happen: People were in the chairs on their upstairs porches, having dinner, hoisting drinks, laughing, holding babies; plants were hanging from porch railings, from the ribs of awnings, or resting in pots on the floors; grills were sizzling from hot dogs or hamburgers or steaks, with smoke wafting upward; and doors to inside the houses were swinging open and closed, showcasing the constant porch activity.
By nightfall an elegant quiet had overtaken these porches, and our family would sit, for the most part quietly, with adult and child drinks, relaxing while we observed the cars rolling down the streets, the few people walking their dogs or just taking an evening stroll, and the stars (and sometimes moon) above. And when we did speak it was a mélange of topics: from my brothers and my schoolwork to my mom’s latest meeting with one of her organizations; from my dad's day as an auto mechanic to how the Yankees were doing; when we were next going to Crystal Beach to how much we liked the latest episode of "Bonanza."
I no longer have an upstairs front porch, and it seems the elements of each 24 hours simply don't offer the extended times for porch visits we enjoyed back in the day. But all I need do is take a drive down any street with upstairs front porches and those memories from my youth come alive, a smile breaks over my face, and I think, "Yeah, it sure was great to have an upstairs front porch."
Errol Craig Sull, of Snyder, misses the carefree days of leisure time spent on his upstairs front porch.